Review: Valhalla Rising (2009)

Review: Valhalla Rising (2009)

This one I watched a while back, but was drawn by its strange style into a repeat viewing.  It is a Viking/Christian Crusader flick that is nothing like what you might think it to be.  The first time I watched this film, I was completely thrown off track, expecting something a little more straightforward, with swordplay and violent acts of Viking-ness.  As it turns out, Valhalla Rising is really more of a thinking man’s film, reminding me at times of the unique style portrayed by famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.

Valhalla Rising’s main star is the rising (no pun intended) talent of Mads Mikkelsen.  Some may know him as the guy who almost took on the role of main-bad-guy in the Thor sequel.  Others may know him from the many other projects he has taken part in, including the Clash of the Titans remake and his current tackling of the role of Hannibal in the upcoming TV series.  But whether you know him or not, he will impress with his moody dramatic abilities.

To get back to the movie… Mikkelsen plays a character known only as One Eye.  He is a Norse prisoner who is used as a gladiator of sorts, being put into combat against one or more opponents as people place bets on the outcome.  He manages to kill and escape from his captors, taking along with him a young boy who is one of the only survivors of his prison-breaking rampage.  He ends up on a boat journey with some Christian Crusaders who are heading to Jerusalem in the year 1000 A.D.  The boat, however, ends up someplace far more mysterious and dangerous than the Holy Land.

The movie is divided into 6 acts, each titled upon the theme of that particular bit.  The overall story follows the group as they get lost, end up in a strange land and must then figure out where they are as well as cope with some pertinent questions.  Their faith is tested as is their sanity and they begin to wonder whether they are indeed lost or actually dead and in some sort of hell.  When they try to get back aboard the boat and leave, attacks from the trees prevent them.

By the end of the film, I was quite lost as to what had just happened.  Though there are many themes throughout the movie and the director does a good job of conveying the emotions and philosophical/theological questions, the answers are for the viewer to interpret.  It’s a bit of an art film and, as I mentioned before, reminds me somewhat of Tarkovsky.  A rudimentary knowledge of Norse mythology is helpful to have before viewing the film if you really want to delve into all its layers.

Valhalla Rising is definitely not for everyone.  People that want a straightforward film will quickly find themselves lost, bored or both.  For those of us that enjoy a story that forces you to think, Valhalla Rising does that in spades.  I recommend it eagerly to all who want to watch something that goes against the grain of modern-day filmmaking.