What I Watched Last Night: Valhalla Rising (2009) w/ commentary

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast:  Mads Mikkelson, Gary Lewis, Jamie Sives

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 Falsely advertised as ‘300, except with Vikings’ (and sorely unappreciated by a 15 year old Movie Quibble) upon its 2009 release, Valhalla Rising  is a metaphysical enigma of movie-making wonder. Five years on, the mist shrouding its genius has finally cleared away. To quote Danish auteur Nicolas Winding  Refn; ‘I didn’t want to make a film that people took drugs to watch, I wanted to make a film that made you feel like you were on them’. Valhalla Rising  is compulsive and at times horrifying viewing, compellingly different from the rest of Refn’s body of work, or for that matter, anyone’s. Give it your full attention, and it has the power to trap you in a psychosis of immersion.

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Picture the scene: Scotland. The Crusades era. Paganism is on the way out, the fanatically misguided Christians are on the way in. Among the squabble arises a one-eyed warrior, saying not a word but handing out swift, gut-spilling justice to all that deserve it. One-Eye (Mads Mikkelson) is an entity of ancient power, and as he silently traverses this hell-on-earth, he passes through profound metamorphic change, from slave to hero to god, before returning to the elements that first bore him. Blood, death and re-birth are themes that constantly recur in Valhalla Rising – blood-shed facilitates change in the film, and the cycloptic champion’s acts of violence are imbued with an almost spiritual power. There is a palpable, almost (Refn’s words) sensual feel to the graphical fight scenes and their mesmerising build-up. The brutality is beyond primal – animals aren’t capable of such things.Image

Winding Refn has an unparalleled eye (or rather two, unlike his protagonist) for beauty, and every single shot is iconic. The direction and cinematography are so intuitive that Valhalla Rising  surpasses mere entertainment; it is art that actually becomes nature. Mads Mikkelson’s wordless, unblinking (alright, half-blinking) performance as One-Eye is wholly captivating, taking on a Christ-like, even alien aspect, and the tersely spoken Scottish supporting cast are faultless to a man. The subtly terrifying score acts as the blood-drenched cherry atop what is undoubtedly a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it already, watch Valhalla Rising  immediately. If you have, watch it again.

Thanks for reading! Below are various highlights, quotes and tit bits that Movie Quibble learned while listening to the special features DVD commentary.

– Nicolas Winding Refn is colour blind.

– Initially, Refn captured the entire film in slow-motion… he only changed it in post-pro, and thank goodness. ‘It was slow already, so I didn’t want it to be even more slow’, muses the great Dane.

– After the Pusher trilogy and Valhalla Rising,  Refn had amassed a not inconsiderable underground following; ‘Now I have to go to Hollywood and uncult myself’. With Drive  two years later he accomplished that goal and then some.

– About 40 minutes in, Refn mentions that Mads Mikkelson and Jamie Sives – an actor with a very minor role in Valhalla – also shared screen time on the abominable Clash of the Titans. To this, interviewer Alan Jones responds (exactly) like this: ‘ah right, which is… ah, so, um… did you say they were all Scottish actors?’ Clash of the Titans,  a film so bad it stops even lifelong professionals dead in their tracks.

– Winding Refn says that, like any mind altering substance you may or may not have taken, watching Valhalla Rising  ‘is a very individual experience’. If you can, watch it alone. And don’t do drugs.

– To conclude, here’s the finest quote of the lot: ‘It’s a metaphysical rape, man! Of course he’s not going to have his pants ripped!’

Bye now.

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