Valhalla Rising (2009) Poster

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A strangely captivating movie
dschmeding25 May 2010
"Valhalla Rising" is a strange movie that will split the audience into lovers and haters like you can see in the comments here. To me its these movies that are most interesting. If a movie goer sees a movie like this with breathtakingly beautiful and artistic cinematography on a low budget and still rates it with one or two stars, its either pure ignorance or something was struck that resonated in a negative way.

I already loved the previous movies of director Winding Refn but this one goes into a totally different direction. Its hard to explain the plot because most of it happens in the viewers head. What you see is mostly mythological and religious symbolism all revolving around the main character "One eye". A warrior who fights with a raw power of which we never know its human or not because he is mute and keeps the same empty expression in his face throughout the movie (only in some scenes it seems like hints of a smile shine through).

The movie starts with "One eye" held captive and has to fight battles to the death in which he always prevails. This first part of the movie has some raw violence in it and could be viewed as the "most entertaining" part because after this "Valhalla Rising" turns into a slow moving journey to an unknown place with barely any dialog and a droning ambient soundtrack.

Its hard to say what really happens in the several segments the movie is split into but the religious tone ("Hell", "Sacrifice") already show this is not a movie on a more existential level. And as I am still trying to piece the impressions of "Valhalla Rising" together I find that its a movie that sticks with you long after watching if you let yourself dive into the dense atmosphere. The imagery is stunning throughout, the most simple shots like a close up of knifes being washed in a river look like a beautiful painting and the constant difference between the beauty of the cinematography and the cold colors, raw violence and the dark droning soundtrack are as captivating as Mads MIkkelsen playing the cold expressionless "One Eye" like a force of nature.

I can't put my finger on what sucked me into this movie but "Valhalla Rising" is an experience open minded movie fans should not miss and I am looking forward to future projects from this promising director.
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TIFF 09: The boy said he was from hell … Valhalla Rising
jaredmobarak21 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Sometimes a movie comes along that is almost indecipherable, but for reasons unknown, still can't be shaken from my consciousness. Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising is one such example. It concerns a one-eyed, mute Norse warrior's quest to discover his lot in life and/or death … I really don't know which. It could have been the fatigue of being the fourteenth movie seen in less than four days at the Toronto International Film Festival, or perhaps it was intentionally vague to utilize its mood and gorgeous environments as the true focal points. Winding Refn said before the screening that he always wanted to shoot in an exotic place, and this was the chance to make that a reality. So, with the lavish hillsides of Scotland, he and co-writer Roy Jacobsen brought a tale of Vikings searching for the Holy Land—or a place to set up a new one—with them, listening to heavy metal in order to get into the mindframe of the hell that would take over. I do think all involved understood that the story would be left up to audience interpretation, making it more a journey rather than a strict plot, because star Mads Mikkelsen left us with a cryptic message himself before the projector started going. He said, "Sit back, relax, and enjoy that imaginary joint." It all starts with Mikkelsen's One-Eye in captivity, being used as a fighter against other Norse tribes' best—able to take a beating and always shell out more to achieve victory. Helped by a young boy, Are, (played by Maarten Steven), he soon escapes and kills those holding him captive, taking the boy with him as he travels on, visions of red violence coming into his mind, leading him to an inevitable fate. Using the boy as translator to those they cross paths with, a bond is formed between the two, one that holds One-Eye accountable to protect him no matter what. Eventually finding passage with a Viking vessel of Christians, the captain of which sees the use of having a man of his powers as an ally, a fog soon rolls in as they sail to an unknown land. Conditions become dire as food and drink deplete and the water surrounding them becomes salty and undrinkable. Tensions run high and blame is passed to the warrior, calling him a beacon of evil, already having been told by the boy that he came from hell.

The visions become more frequent as we wonder if One-Eye is going insane, is a vessel himself for a higher being, or just supernatural in both strength and mind. Red soaked passages eventually come true in the dull, cold palette used to show reality. Violence runs rampart throughout, allegiances, tenuous at best, and survival playing a large role in everything. Maybe this God of a man is some sort of reaper taking the Vikings on a journey to their destruction or perhaps he has only involved them in the trip to his own, but either way, the graphic nature of combat and battle—dirty and personal, just as you'd think it would be with savages such as these—is prevalent at all times. Right from the start we are exposed to the gruesome fights, seeing two men battle in the mud, feeling each punch connect, a battle ending with the decapitation of the loser by the chain holding the victor in place so as not to escape. Brutal in execution and still beautiful in its hellish visuals, one cannot deny the power of image.

Winding Refn's Vikings are physical specimens of humanity, not exactly giants, but fierce in their mentalities and demeanors. You would not want to get into a fistfight with any, as they would rip you apart limb from limb. It is this gritty realism that helps in the success of the movie, showing this world as being without rules and governed by strength. The leader will be the general that can keep the rest safe, his hold of power only as strong as the respect given him by those he leads. It only takes one moment of weakness to become expendable, killed and tossed to the side as the next warrior rises up. But then you have One-Eye, a man who could take on anyone or all and be victorious. He is not out for the glory or riches that come in war; he is on a spiritual march to whatever future is coming to him in bits and pieces when he closes his eyes.

Norse mythology is often made into large blonde men wearing horned helmets and furry clothing, weapons at hand to bludgeon and beat. Valhalla Rising doesn't buy into these clichés or stereotypes, instead digging deeper into the mentalities of these people, the rage and religious fervor that lives inside. The Christians want to find salvation or safety of some form, and they aren't afraid to spill blood to find it. So it becomes a combination of mythology and Christianity and survival, men without answers on a journey through hell, or into it. I was a little surprised to hear that distribution rights were purchased after it screened in Toronto, not because it doesn't deserve them—it is a cinematic feat that earns the right to be seen and dissected—but because of its lack of mainstream appeal. So much of the movie is internal, watching actors act without words, making the audience think and decipher what is going on. I just hope the Hollywood machine does not fall into the trap of selling it as a battle royale of Vikings on the sea, a 300 type epic adventure. That would be the greatest disservice of all. The film merits an audience of introspective thinkers and open minds to let the sumptuous nature of all on screen—whether beautiful or disgusting or both—wash over them and grab hold. It isn't so much a movie to be seen, but one to be experienced.
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In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
nicrok5 June 2010
Well, I'm not sure how to put this.

This isn't the movie you would expect. This is a raw and gritty movie, a festival for your eyes, a rare piece of art that dispenses with dialogue, plot and laws of logic for the sake of great cinematography/photography, gripping ambiance and mythology. VALHALLA RISING rendered me speechless. I can't even tell you if it's good - I just want to tell you that it's worth watching. Every minute of it. It is an experience.

We do not learn much of our (anti-)hero: a warrior-slave, Mads Mikkelsen, is freed from captivity and bands with a group of crusaders who intend on heading to the Holy Land, yet end up, well, in their own little hell.

There isn't much more to say to the plot, for it hardly matters - mythology matters here, the grand sceneries matter, and the underlying message matters. It aims at showing us how superfluous the Christian God seems in a world of violence; life as a farce in the face of intangible evil. Will you desert your (Christian) God when the time has come? Here lies its main agenda: in a world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. He is indeed, he ties us to the elemental powers, and rises above.

A piece of art. Take your time, be patient, and you will enjoy it like no movie before.
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God was I wrong
JogigoJ24 May 2010
I was expecting an epic battle movie about Vikings (as my mistake was to not check who's the director) and hell was I mistaken. What was delivered was an astonishing movie about humanity. In my humble opinion this is a masterpiece, despite being visually and acoustically amazing it is an in-depth look into mankind as it is rarely found. There is a lot in this movie (which in itself is amazing when one is looking on the minimal use of words)and I have to admit I did not get all the hints and metaphors used.

If you want entertainment go and watch something else use your brain and you will enjoy this movie! I normally do not write reviews or rate movies here but I strongly felt that this movie was underrated by a mile. Further, this reminded me to go and finally buy Denmarks best trilogy!
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Snake Plisken3 June 2010
This is an excellent movie. It's a visual movie that you watch and experience. There is very little dialog and everything said is important. It requires several viewings to grasp many of the subtleties in the images and story. The director has managed to capture the atmosphere perfectly. The action is very brutal and lifelike.

This movie isn't everyone's cup of tea. It has a very "trippy" feel throughout the movie, and a bit of philosophy thrown in. The main questions surround the hero of the movie, One-Eye, and a boy named Are, who he is protecting. After watching it several times, I am of the opinion that One-Eye is possibly a direct avatar of Odin. A very interesting movie with excellent cinematography, with much of the story shown and not told, I recommend this to anyone who has a brain and likes action and adventure.
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Immyr18 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I don't even know how I discovered this movie. But it will not leave me for a long long time.

Many levels,so many levels, a deep breath into oneself.

Much existential philosophy here.

It speaks of the meaning of life. How do we live ? Why do we live ? How will we die ? The Christianity is just there in the background to make one see the emptiness of a life searching for an afterlife.

The other men live and die. Many in vain. Searching for their god, searching for a meaning, and always, except a few, dying by their fear.

One-eye, the hero (I don't know if you can REALLY call him that), is just a man, living for the instant, for this world. There is no future in his eye, just the brutal present. All along his journey, there is a kind of smile on his lips, as if he knew what the future will be made of. Well, events are never unexpected for him, because each of them happen in the present and he deals...

Valhalla : where warriors who die in battle go... Odin was also one- eyed.

The penultimate chapter is called : Hell. Hell is the representation of the warriors of Christianity for a place on earth. They are in hell, because they think they are. They react as they were there. For One-eye, just another place, another home... the last survivors follow him out of it... All the symbolism... the prophet to lead us out of the religion's hells is just a man, a semi-blind one, who can't see the distances very well, but see the present, clear enough to lead the path.

Don't go watch this movie if you are seeking action.

If Nietzsche is your friend, One-eye is another Zarathustra.

10 out of 10 without hesitation.
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Style over substance
andri_iceland20 July 2010
When I heard there was going to be a Viking movie with Mads Mikkelson, and I saw the trailer for it, I was very very intrigued. I am of the opinion that a serious Viking drama has never been done well or respectfully, so I was really hoping that I might get that here.

Unfortunately, the plot of Vallhalla Rising is so shallow and near meaningless that I must admit that I'm still waiting.

That being said, if judged in terms of cinematic and visual experience, it was beautifully shot, and the much vaunted fights scenes (especially the ones in the beginning) were awesome in their brutality. The director sets great scenes in some awesome locations, so your eyes will be in for a treat... but don't expect riveting plot. Rather, think of this as an arts movie with a bit of brutal violence in it.

Hell, I just wished they named the movie better. The fact these characters are Norse is just about irrelevant... they could have plugged a number of different cultures into this story-line, change a few slight details and the difference to the core story would have been negligible. Way to name a movie Valhalla Rising' simply because otherwise the idea that there are Vikings in this movie is not reinforced heavily enough.

So, watch if you want a artsy visual experience... don't sit down with a bunch of friends expecting a action blockbuster. This is not it.
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Hearts of Darkness meets Bosch meets Lord of The Flies
Stu Brett2 July 2010
Nicolas Winding Refn and his skeleton film crew have done a fantastic job with this film. It's minimalist in it's dialogue (more akin to a Takeshi production), brutal in it' depiction of violence, stunning in it's heavily treated Scottish-shot cinematography and quite frankly surreal in it's execution.

As for the story, you may have read the plot above but Nicolas Winding Refn is really wanting to take his audience on a visual/psychological journey rather than spell everything out for you. This is a film that will probably win over more 'art-house' fans than hyperactive videogaming teenage boys, which begs the question - What the hell happened to the original theatrical poster artwork, why has the marketing department decided to package this as a '300' rip-off?? It's criminal.

In terms of plot, much is left to the imagination and it benefits greatly from it. It's like a very bad acid trip. A trip that Mads Mikkelsen's character 'one-eye' undertakes for reasons known only to himself (well, a mute isn't going to tell you what's he's doing is he?). After fleeing his captors, finding a child as a companion and joining up with a group of midgy-bitten Scottish Christian Vikings (which actually existed, by the way) we find ourselves en-route, via viking boat to what can only be described as Hearts of Darkness meets Bosch meets Lord of The Flies. It's a story that peers into the deepest and darkest parts of man's soul. Chaos, evil, death it's all in there and the director takes on an almost Werner Herzog persona, dragging his crew to the most remote parts of Scotland. It's edgy, sparse, minimalist spooky psychological stuff that's utterly gorgeous and tense throughout. It just about holds the pace together (almost losing it in the boat scenes) but it's Mads Mikkelsen that keeps you gripped. Even without uttering a word, he draws you in until the closing scene Great stuff. It's gory art-house flick, existential, dark, minimalist, stylish and very un-Hollywood. And I loved it.

I just wish the box art was revised for the sake of it's future audience. The packaging this film comes in is a disgrace. '300' it ain't! It desperately needs a minimalist design on the menu and box to match the film's mood (and original theatrical poster). Trust me folks, I'm a Graphic Designer!
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True masterpiece, a work of art. Deep and raw...
Hugo França28 August 2010
This is what i call cinema at it's true and pure essence. This movie is raw, intense and beautiful. It focuses on the human nature, throws some great concepts from Nietzsche and adds a primal yet substantial ideology on how we are connected to nature. It reminds me of Apocalypse Now and how the journey moves on. Excellent cinematography and atmosphere. It really took me into the movie and made me enjoy every single second of it.

I've read some bad reviews and seen some negative ratings on this one, and i totally understand why. This movie caught a lot of attentions because of it's title, being English spoken and also because of the trailer, but sadly it ended up in the hands of some action-popcorn-thirsty-kids. Please go see Lord of the Rings and leave the ratings to those who seek a deep and philosophical movie. I'm not an intellectual freak and i love Lord of the Rings and other blockbusters but to those not familiar with Tarkovsky, Fellini, Bertolucci or even Leone will surely dislike this movie and not be able to see it till the very end.

The soundtrack is amazingly rich and original, the visuals are stunning, the story is simple yet deep and meaningful. I would say this is a cult movie and a must see, one of the best movies ever.
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Half confused, half awed
jadagirl4 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
On a whim I decided I wanted to try "Valhalla Rising". It looked like my type of movie.... you know, action, violence, that kind of thing. I couldn't have been so far from the truth. Yes, violence was there, more towards the beginning, and dry, hardly any fanfare at all. But, as the movie progressed it became... how to put it... simple yet complex, and artistic and rough (bright use of red/blue vs the lifeless colour).

So on to the movie. There was very little dialogue throughout the film, the actors relying more on body language, the dead-pan stares, the lift and tweaks of eyebrows and mustaches/beards. I was with it so far. Not my type, but actually enjoying it. Then we entered 2/3 way and I entered my "WTH" moment. I swear the wine (at least i think it was wine) they consumed was tainted. Yea, you have to watch that part to understand what I mean. Then the movie races (if turtles race) towards the end. Didn't like the ending. Nope.

On a whole, the movie was so so, with much of my rating going to the cinematography, the score, and Mads Mikkelson whom I think was good as "One Eye". I just didn't quite get it...

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