Why Haven’t You Seen It: Valhalla Rising


Seems like Vikings are finally getting their dues. Always as badass as pirates and ninja, but never given the proper pop culture respect they deserve, with a mantle next to those two, people are finally realizing vikings may have actually been the most badass of the three. They took what they wanted by any means and let no single threat stand in their way. The rape thing wasn’t cool, but I will skip that because this movie spares us any of that. But there was an aspect to the Viking culture most don’t know about. The worshiping of death. Okay, not so much actual worshiping, but the acceptance and embrace of death. Death was not some dramatic period at the end of a sentence to them. No, to them, death was the payoff for a life well lived. And the greatest death you could get was a warrior’s death. Bloody and cut up was the way to go, and dying quietly in your bed was just not an option to vikings. And the 2009 movie Valhalla Rising might just be the best representation of vikings ever put on screen. I know that is lofty, but if you see this movie, you will understand and agree. It is dark and unsettling and pretty much everything we’ve been led to believe that vikings really were.

Valhalla, for those of you who don’t know, was the name for the hall in which the fallen souls of slain heroes would be received by Odin. Kind of like a Hell they WANT to go to, if that makes any sense. Valhalla Rising follows the tale of a viking tentatively called “One Eye” (for obvious reasons). He is a vicious and unrivaled warrior, and as soon as we meet him, we find out he is being held captive for that exact reason. I will warn  you right now, do not expect much exposition in this film. You get very little. Very little story. Very little dialogue. Very little is actually fed to us. Instead, we piece the story together ourselves, just by watching it all unfold. The story itself, though sparse, is incredibly haunting, and paired up with the marvelous direction, settings, and cinematography, it is a film that oozes mood and atmosphere. It is dark, bloody, and ultimately, very believable. I don’t know any vikings, but I feel like if I did, they would tell me this movie “got them right”.


He just found out Nic Cage is going to play him in the reboot.

The story, though sparse, follows One Eye as he escapes being held captive by a Norse Chief. The thing about One Eye, he is a mad man. A killer with no refrain. He is only being held captive because of the constant threat he poses to everyone around him, and as soon as you see his escape, you see why they had him captive. This is where I will issue quick warning about this film. This film is violent. And not comical violence, either. These are vikings, for Christ sake. The violence is hands on, and, at one point, hands IN. Yes, at one point, One Eye reaches into a guy’s stomach while he is screaming and tears out his intestines with his bare hands. But come on, you are watching a movie about vikings. What did you expect, dance numbers? The violence is what really sells the film.

Okay, trailer time.


This is one of those movies that makes you feel exhausted by the time it is over, as if you rode along with them.

Key to all real film connoisseurs is the brilliant director of this awesome film, Nicolas Winding Refn, who did the AMAZING movie Bronson with Tom Hardy, and was also at the helm for the Pusher movies, which, if you haven’t seen them, you need to right now. His movies have this insane way of meshing the beautiful with the grotesque. He uses these stellar long shots and in other moments, will be so zoomed in on an actor, you can see their pores breathing. He also finds a great juxtapose between somewhat funny and completely unsettling, which he manages to even pull off a few times in this movie as well. There will be scenes you chuckle at, wondering how you can be chuckling amid so much death and destruction, and that is what makes me love Valhalla Rising even more. It is  a movie driven by mood and feeling, and not dialogue. I swear, that trailer has most of the dialogue from the movie, and I am not kidding. It is a quiet, dark, violent film, but a film that stands alone for the scale of the story being told. This is about the final moments of these people, the vikings. It is about a new world eating an old world alive. It is about death and redemption.

Man, if I got a dollar for every time I recommended you movies about death and redemption, I bet I’d be eating lobster tonight.


So that’s what “longing for redemption” looks like?

The final thing I want to mention about Valhalla Rising is its star, the perfectly named Mads Mikkelsen. Yes, that is his real name. He plays One Eye, but he does it in a way that will almost remind you of the antiheroes from old westerns. He speaks with little words yet heavy actions, carries an unknown yet noticeably dark past with him that weighs on him, and is seeking redemption from himself the only way he knows how. By delivering more death. It is an completely believable performance, made only more remarkable by the fact that he is given little dialogue,  has his face hidden behind a scar prosthetic, and yet still manages to emote so much, while actually saying and showing so little. Truth is, about a half hour into this film you will realize, this is a film with no heroes. A film with no hope. And it is not supposed to have any. That, in itself, is the story.

It is a dark reminder of a dark time, literally and figuratively. The final moments of a very badass people, and as Valhalla is rising in this film, you cannot help but get totally swept up in the darkness, too. Your room will smell of death by the time the film ends, and you will feel as if you took the journey into the darkness with them. Like you stared into the hallowed hallways of death, and marched forward with your brothers, ready to leave behind a blood soaked legacy.

And that is just what Valhalla Rising is.

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  1. I remember my fiance and I stumbling upon this movie on Netflix a few years back. Knowing nothing about the movie except for the awesome name and the cool picture for the cover (and that we love vikings), we watched it. Generally speaking, movies without much dialogue kinda annoy me, but oh boy does it work for this one. What helps is that it covers an often overlooked part of the vikings story as a whole.

  2. This is a movie that completely polarizes viewers. It’s cliche, but you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s not a “commerical”-type film…very art-house, so be prepared.

    Oddly enough, I didn’t care for it much the first time I watched it (on Netflix, just like Sven)….probably because I didn’t know what to expect, and therefore expected the wrong thing. But the imagery and mood stayed with me (haunted me is a more apt description), so I watched it again with fresh eyes and appreciated it so much more.

    It helps that I’m a fan of Winding-Refn’s work (you left out his most commercial film, “Drive” from your summary), as well as Mads Mikklesen (“Le Chifre” from Casino Royale, as well as TV’s new Hannibal Lectre).

  3. I wanted to like this film so much, Mads Mikkelson and vikings seemed like a recipe for awesome. I just found it was trying to be too pretentious. I love “Bronson” and “Drive”, so it’s the type of film I should like. I’ll have to give it another go with a fresh perspective, since I hold your opinion in high regard.

  4. I can completely understand why some people get bored with it. It is uncharacteristic of me to like films that have long, drawn out shots and sparse dialogue (as all Refn’s work tends to) but there was something so palpably hopeless about this whole movie, and I ended up just getting sucked in.

  5. I thought I’d seen this, but turns out I was wrong. I guess I was thinking of Outlander or something so this one slipped my mind. Who doesn’t love vikings? They were like axe-wielding anarchist tribal nazis without the racism. On second thought, ninja and samurai are way cooler. Still, if there’s a movie about vikings to be seen, I shall see it. Thanks for the reminder.

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