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Archive for February 19th, 2014

valhalla-rising-1

© 2014 by James Clark

 When we come to a film as bizarre as Nicolas Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009), we are, perhaps unbeknown, placed within large demands to get to the bottom of its expressive design. The work appears at first glance to be a study of sorts concerning the ways of Nordic tribes in the late medieval period (say, 1000 AD) where a pagan (Viking?) ethos finds itself troublesomely confronted by the clerkish circumspection of bands galvanized by Christianity. At the outset, we are put on notice, along such lines, by this signage: “In the beginning there was only man and nature. Men came bearing crosses and drove the heathen to the fringes of the earth.” Judging from the Scottish dialect of the non-heathens here, we would seem to be dipping into the ethnology of early Britain. (Valhalla Rising was in fact filmed in Scotland, spilling our way as concentrated a swatch of disturbing atmosphere as you’re ever apt to see—unremittingly dark and damp and stark, with winds close to blowing the cast off of the planet, reminding us of the inclement features of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, filmed in another weather hell, Canada.)

    But if the concern of Valhalla Rising were at all driven by the romance of history, we would not, surely, see so much Gothically chic wardrobe—not unlike the garb on display in expensive, media-zone restaurants. Nor would we have a camera-angle, during a tense confrontation, where the protagonist’s battle axe is poised like a big pistol in a holster. Nor would we have a Man with no Voice, unmistakably giving off a (highly inflected, of course) version of the Man with No Name. (Actor, Mads Mikkelsen, provides a similarly handsome tautness of skin and expressivity of eye.) The protagonist’s loyal companion, a young boy with Scandinavian hair, tells him, during one of the myriad tight spots they occupy, “You need a name. You’ve only got one eye…” This near-banter within a narrative plunge so heavily steeped in violent death, while seeming to fit nicely within the glory days of Clint Eastwood, does, in fact, bring us to the point of realization that Valhalla Rising no more closely stalks early film than it stalks early history. (For good measure, Refn has apparently done his bit to muddy the waters by referring to this movie as “science fiction,” especially thrilled by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.) (more…)

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