Valhalla Rising is a 2009 film from director Nicolas Winding Refn, who also penned the script along with a relative unknown by the name of Roy Jacobsen. Nicolas Refn is a quickly rising star on the critical and commercial success of the film ‘Drive’, currently in theatres.
This film really is a world apart. Let me first say that this isn’t for everyone by any means. This is a gritty, brutal, sparse, and phenomonally beautiful piece of work. You could probably fit the entire dialogue of the film on a single typewritten page or two, and there are only a few moments of any significant action. If you’re prepared for it, it’s truly a monumental achievement as a film.
The story, for what it is, follows the mute Viking slave known only as ‘One Eye’, who in the opening sequence is shown to possess such qualities of violence and fortitude that he seems hewn from the same craggly rocks and severeness of the very landscape that he inhabits. He does not celebrate, he does not mourn, he simply exists as a silent and resolute testament to the strength of his own will. As he moves through the story, he is drawn by a series of visions towards his destiny, and the sheer magnitude of his character is the undeniable center of the world in which the others revolve around. He is said to have been raised up from hell, and that’s where he aims to return.
The photography is absolutely stunning, the direction impeccable, and the music highly effective. The performances didn’t have any flaws that I noticed whatsoever. There are many scenes and indeed portions of the film with no dialogue at all, it simply is almost a dreamscape that is inhabited by these disparate and mostly violent souls. One can interpret certain elements a number of different ways, and it’s a testament to the skill of Nicolas Refn that this all comes together and works as well as it does.
I can imagine that this was a hard sell, and indeed it never saw a real theatrical release. Without a doubt this is not for everyone, I can’t stress enough that this is NOT a typical film by any measure. Think of it as a two hour exercise in the art of film, and do not expect any conventional elements.
I rate the film 10/10 for me personally, which aside from Casablanca, Citizen Kain, and Schindler’s List, I have never considered a film utterly perfect as what it was. For most viewers however, I would imagine a much lower reaction, as this couldn’t be more opposite of what dominates the box office.