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Valhalla Rising

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
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The dastardly Danish director of the Pusher trilogy and Bronson hits back at your tame and bourgeois sensibilities with the longest heavy metal film clip to a non-existent song that you’re never going to sit through. Ever.

Good goddamn is this a pointless, but nicely shot and atmospheric, film. And like a pointless and nicely shot film clip, when it only goes for three or four minutes, and has decent music, it can capture and maintain your interest. When it goes for 90 minutes, its impossible to feel like it wasn’t a colossal waste of your time.

One Eye (Mad Mikkelsen) is a one-eyed chap who kills anyone who gets close enough to him. Some bearded, dirty Viking types keep him captive, and occasionally let him out of a cage in order to have him fight and kill other guys in pointless contests out of which he always emerges bloody and victorious.

He eventually escapes by killing everyone except a boy who wasn’t too horrible to him. He hooks up with some Christians who want to go to the Holy Land.

They end up in the Americas. Almost everyone dies. The film ends.

That’s it, that’s everything. It takes 90 excruciating minutes to tell a tale that probably could have been told in a text message. One Eye doesn’t speak once, and in every scene in which he’s not killing people, he stands there mute.

Occasionally, as in a bad film clip, the screen goes all red, and One Eye gets some presentiment of the future, of something that’s going to happen. It’s usually accompanied by a screeching sound so off-putting that it’s meant to compound the fact that the flick is deliberately trying to be annoying. It works, too well.

Everything, every fucking thing transpires in a gloomy, doomy, portentous manner, so laden with apparent importance, and so heavy that the fact that practically nothing happens is not meant to discourage us on our path to enlightenment. Does it fuck…

I’m not completely averse to films of this nature. My issue is not a lack of understanding, as in, it’s not because I feel like I didn’t get what was going on. My issue is that whilst some of what happens has meaning, none of it amounts to diddly squat in the end. What happens happens because that’s all there is. Why it happens, or what it means never comes into it.

And, for me, that’s frustrating. I’m willing and able to go the extra mile to appreciate stuff that doesn’t follow formulas and templates, to give it time to sink in and work its magic in my head. I just don’t think this is a flick that gives anything in return for cutting it some slack, for doing that extra work.

I guess it kinda falls into the realms of something like Aguirre: The Wrath of God, or those other naturalist dramas where people end up in a hostile wilderness surrounded by hostile and mostly unseen primitives. I’m not sure, though, that there’s a similar narrative going on. In fact, I’m not sure that there was any meaningful narrative at all. By narrative I don’t mean actual narration telling us what to think about anything. I mean any overall thematic statement, or cohering element that propels the story beyond a plot. I’m not sure it really comes across, if it’s there.

To me that’s a problem. If you’re trying to say something to me, and I can understand the individual words you’re saying, but not what they mean put together, then is the failure mine or yours? If you’re just throwing words out at random because they sound cool, and there’s no underlying or overarching meaning, then I guess there’s no problem. But if you think you’re giving me the wisdom of the ages, and it ends up sounding like “shana shana doo wap doo doo di doo”, then you weren’t really communicating with me at all, were you?

I really felt like I had nothing to pin my mind onto, and couldn’t grasp anything despite nothing that complicated going on at any given moment. I could understand what was happening (barely, at some points, like when the Crusaders, One Eye and the boy start tripping and freaking out), but not what it connected to or why I should care. I love Mads Mikkelsen, and if any superstar titan of Danish cinema could capture this character’s qualities with sheer presence alone, this is the guy to do it.

But I couldn’t get over the fact that, for the vast majority of the time, he and everyone else are just standing around. Literally just fucking standing there, with some people occasionally talking, with painfully long pauses in between each person speaking, but mostly just fucking standing there, or sitting there, or some combination thereof.

They could have been vogueing or breakdancing or doing shadow puppets with their fingers on the wall for all it mattered.

I can appreciate dark, dank and stormy cinematography, and the wilds of Scotland, which look stark and inhospitable to humans, let alone Scots on display. If that’s the only visual thing going, though, then it’s the most unengaging and depressing tourism commercial I’ve ever seen.

Nicolas Winding Refn, to his credit, is not a message guy. None of the four films of his that I’ve seen have depended on overarching narratives, even as they make sly points about what awful things people are capable of within the drug underworld of Copenhagen, or what a lunatic who lives only to fight ends up as (as in Bronson, the surreal tale of a career crim nutter).

I’m sure Valhalla Rising means something to him, because he ends the film by dedicating it to Oliver Winding. The film must be important to him, if he dedicates the film to someone important to him, goes my logic. So, ultimately, the story is about a father-like figure killing heaps of other people, and sacrificing himself, to save his son-like figure, in some manner that connects with the dedication. Is that about it?

But who is Oliver Winding? It’s not Nicolas Winding Refn’s son, since he only has a daughter. It’s not his dad, Anders Refn. It’s not his brother, as far as I can figure out.

If you wonder why such a thing is tormenting me, it’s because I was so pissed off, after having endured 90 incredulous minutes, with the ending, that when I saw that, the only solace I could draw from it was that a) the fucking flick was over, and b) maybe this was the key to unlock the whole pointlessly surreal endeavour. Of course now I’m left even more confused and irritated than before, because it still doesn’t mean anything.

In the end, it’s just a bunch of dark imagery, brutish bloody misery and I guess that should be enough. It’s just that it’s not, for me, but then no-one really makes films with me specifically in mind, do they?

And why in the name of everliving fuck is the flick called Valhalla Rising anyway? How does the mythical heaven for Viking warriors rise up, down, go sideways or in any direction anyway?

Grrrr, I don’t even care about the answers anymore. Avoid. No, just avoid it completely, don’t argue with me. Avoid.

4 times my love for Mads has not diminished in the slightest out of 10

“Let us show them what men of God are capable of.” – leave the orphans alone, you nasty so-and-sos, Valhalla Rising.