Saturday, August 06, 2011

Heathen Cinema Movie Review: Valhalla Rising

For me, and for us, the idea of "Heathen cinema" and "Heathen film" is very important. Like it or not, both Heathens and non-Heathens draw a lot of conclusions about Heathenry, ancient and modern, from movies. We Heathens can be inspired by the right movie that presents the nobility in our Ancestors and in our religion (like "Beowulf and Grendel", starring Gerard Butler) or really uninspired by the wrong kind of movie.

The recent movie "Thor" increased people's attention to modern Heathenry, however slightly, and however strange that might seem, as the movie itself presented a full fantasy version of Valhalla and the Gods. Its presentation is only proper, as the movie was based on a sci-fi graphic novel, and not genuine Ancestral Lore. And yet, below the surface, symbols, characters, and events had a deep resonance with something very old in Indo-European culture, and thus in the deep layers of our own culture. Thor, like other movies, really has the potential to awaken something in people. Cinematic depictions of our Gods and myths, however indirect, show that these things are still alive in the collective mind-shadow of our common culture.

So, I watched "Valhalla Rising" a few days ago. Thought I'd give a minor review on the movie, and tell you why I think it might be best avoided. (The picture above is "One Eye", the character in the movie played by Mads Mikkelsen)

I like Mads Mikkelsen a lot. But this role was almost an embarrassment for him for one important reason: his character- "One Eye"- has not a single speaking moment in the entire movie. In fact, the entire movie was a bit "light" on dialogue- and by light, I mean by the time you've watched the trailer which you can see here, you've heard _every_single_ line of dialogue in the movie.

Mads Mikkelsen- who is a very good actor, by the way- spends the entire movie visualizing odd things in his head, staring, and killing people in absurdly brutal ways- once, he bashes and cracks someone's skull open (exposing a little more brain every time he hits them) and another time, he disembowels someone in the most brutal manner ever seen on film. The rest of the time, he does absolutely nothing. And he says nothing. This is a gratuitous waste of talent.

The movie is independent, indie, artsy. Those sorts of movies can be some of the best you'll see- and often enough, they can be some of the worst. This movie moved and developed so slowly that it was like sliding to your death down a one light year long slip-n-slide greased with peanut butter. The movie's trailer claims that it is a "cracked meditation on war, religion, and nation building", but if that was part of the intent of this movie, I missed it totally. The only thing that punctuates the unfolding of the "story"- such that it was- were some outbursts of violence, which while pretty well done, do not save the movie as a whole.

The Heathen characters in the beginning of the movie suck. There is no second dimension to them; they sit around in (what I presume was) northern Scotland pit fighting human beings while staring, and barely having any reactions, before trading money, putting Mads Mikkelsen back into a cage, and then repeating the next day. The only good aspect about the Heathens is how the Heathen leader speaks a grim warning about the Christian presence in their land- his characterization of Christianity is likely very similar to what many historical Heathens thought of it, when they only heard of it from a distance.

The Christian characters (not surprisingly) suck; they are idiots who just kill people, stare at people to make sure they are Christian, too, and then get into a boat hoping to make it to the "Holy Land" to "fight for Jesus"- and end up floating to Greenland, where they spend a good bit of time looking for Jerusalem and their fellow Christians, and some Muslims to kill. They don't find them, of course; they find an unspoiled, beautiful land full of painted Native Americans who are about as happy to see them as the audience is happy to see the movie at this point.

Our hero, One-Eye, would appear to be an "Odinic" figure- he does, after all, have one eye, and he has psychic visions of the future, which he seems to follow, to get to the place he's supposed to be going (presumably). He's a brutal, dark killer, and he's weird- Odinic enough. The actual climax of the movie is when our intrepid but perilously off-course crusaders suddenly get the urge to climb a big hill in Greenland somewhere, and to the pound of an excited, heavy-metal soundtrack, they race up the hill... and find nothing at the top. That's it. Everyone dies. End of story.

Some of you are doubtlessly thinking that something deep's going on here. Was the point of the movie to illustrate how lost everyone really is, how strange life is, and how futile religious wars are? Or how futile things are, in general? I'd like to think so. But I have a suspicion that this is just me reading depth into the shallow end of the pool. Of course, maybe the fact that I had those thoughts at all proves that the movie did its job, and in fact, is a brilliant movie. Perhaps it suffered from budget issues; the trouble there is that I've seen some very great movies done on small budgets. What I think it suffered from was the inability of the writers to translate their vision to the audience's brains on the resources they had.

I strongly suggest that you don't watch it to make your mind up for yourself. Save the two hours for something else you've planned to do for a while. I'm dying of thirst for good Heathen-themed movies, and I usually make it a point to find a way to like them, no matter what. Somehow, I can't do that with this one. On the plus side, if you find yourself watching this movie, at least the scenery and settings are all amazingly beautiful. Just watching the landscape and some of the good costumes might be an okay exercise- for about 20 minutes. Two hours? That's quite a challenge.