Friday, August 23, 2013

Valhalla Rising

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Alexander Morton, Stewart Porter, Maarten Stevenson, Matthew Zajac, Gary Lewis, Jamie Sives

Part I - Wrath

The prologue states that at the dawn of time there was man and nature. Then men bearing crosses drove the heathens to the fringes of the earth.

A mysterious mute Norse warrior, known only as One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), is held captive in cold, windy, misty highlands by a Chieftain (Alexander Morton) where he is forced to fight to the death against other captives of other clans. During his imprisonment One-Eye receives his meals from a young boy. In between contests One-Eye is put to work with arduous tasks that serve to keep him physically strong. He is shown to have the ability to foresee impending events. A dream of bathing amongst large rocks leads him to discover an old iron arrowhead on the bottom of a small natural water basin. Using the arrowhead to secretly free himself from restraints during a journey to a neighboring encampment, he slaughters two men and captures a third. One-Eye disembowels this last man when he defiantly shouts that One-Eye will soon find himself back in hell. The Chieftain then has a monologue in which he predicts One-Eye's return for more vengeance. This is because it is hatred that motivates One-Eye and has allowed him to survive through all of his many ordeals. In the final scene of the first part, One-Eye impales the Chieftain's head on a nithing pole in a magical rite Norse pagans used to place a curse upon someone.

Part II - Silent Warrior

While leaving the land, One-Eye soon realizes that The Boy is pursuing him. They reach a small group of Crusaders, Christians fresh from killing male pagans and holding all the women as naked hostages. As they are preparing to go on a crusade to Jerusalem, the leader of the group, The General (Ewan Stewart), asks One-Eye to join him. He says he could use a good fighter for their cause. The Priest (Gary Lewis) further argues that, live or die, One-Eye may thus free himself of his inner pain and cleanse his soul of sin by committing to the Crusades. The General asks The Boy if he knows about One-Eye's origin. The Boy tells him that One-Eye was brought up from hell which, he has been told, lies on the other side of the ocean. It is left untold if he is talking about the Christian hell or hel: the underworld of Norse mythology.

Part III - Men of God

Unbeknownst to The Crusaders, One-Eye has agreed to accompany them only because of a vision in which he saw himself riding in their boat before ever having met any of them. He seems to follow these premonitions unquestioningly. But the glorious mission becomes a fiasco in which the crew ends up thirsty and hungry and broken. Without any wind and amidst a thick fog for many days, they remain unable to determine their direction or location. The crew begins to believe that the voyage is cursed. Some of them blame it on The Boy. Before embarking on their voyage the Crusaders had agreed that The Boy might bring them luck. Mutiny nearly arises as a crew member who attempts to murder The Boy is killed by One-Eye. Sensing a change in the motion of the boat later on, One-Eye takes a drink from the water and discovers that they are actually in an estuary and no longer at sea. With the fog dissipating, the crew catches the first sight of land off in the distance.

Part IV - The Holy Land

Upon landing, to their surprise, the Holy Land is not the semi-arid place they expected the Near East to be. Rather, it resembles a taiga with vast forests full of lakes and mountains. The crew sets out to explore the area, finding neither animals to hunt nor fruit to eat. Nearly starved, the crew continues until coming across some aboriginal burial sites. One of the crew members (Gary McCormack) leaves the group to venture out on his own. The group searches for him for hours and some blame One-Eye for his disappearance. The General argues that there is no proof that One-Eye killed him. Finally realizing they have not reached Jerusalem, the crew prepares the ship to depart and head home. While on the water, the group is taunted by a single arrow which almost seems to come flying in from nowhere and kills one of their men. Terrified, they soon come to believe that they are actually in Hell.

Part V - Hell

Upon returning to shore the men drink a psychotropic brew given to them by The General. This is his dubious method of ".....claiming the land in His Name." Subsequent events only serve to reassure the viewer that The General has indeed gone completely mad. The liquid's origin remains unexplained, but the container is a pottery jug with cryptic markings that possibly identify it as originating from one of the burial sites the group had explored earlier. One-Eye has a vision of his ultimate fate. He wades to a small island to construct a cairn. Meanwhile, the other men split up and experience a variety of perceptions and emotions including apathy, desperation and despair. One prays, one attacks and rapes another, others wander or wait. One-Eye and the group are then confronted by the lost crew member who emerges from the forest barechested and his skin covered in orange-brown mud in which runes are drawn. This lost Viking (Gary McCormack) says he can hear One-Eye's thoughts now and translates that the warrior is saying they are in Hell. One of the crew members (Gordon Brown) then accuses The General of lying to them, and One-Eye of bringing them there. He disavows the existence of God and attacks One-Eye. Three people die in the fracas that follows.

Part VI - The Sacrifice

Arrows from the forest continue to harass those left behind soon after the band breaks up. As The Priest (Gary Lewis) prepares to follow One-Eye, The General stabs him in the side and declares that he himself will stay and create a "New Jerusalem" for the men of faith. Upon his subsequent appointment of The Lost One as his chief spiritual adviser, however, even the orange mud-stained Viking merely laughs at him. The wounded Priest and The General's Son (Jamie Sives) follow One-Eye up the mountains. The General is then hit by several arrows, slipping into the water as he dies. They stop to rest and question their fate, turning to One-Eye. Though The Boy seems to hear him, it is unclear if either of the others do. The General's Son decides that he must go back to his father, knowing the man is probably dead and that he too will die. One-Eye and The Boy continue on, but the Priest does not follow. Mortally wounded, he sits with flies buzzing loudly nearby, viewing the misty valley landscape.

One-Eye and The Boy successfully reach the coastline and are soon met by over a dozen clay-covered warriors. One-Eye regards them knowingly, as he has already foreseen this event in a vision. He puts his hand on The Boy's arm, then walks into the middle of the tribesmen. He drops his axe and his knife and closes his eye. After a brief, silent interlude one of the warriors fells him with one blow to the back of the head. While a handful of the warriors finish him off, the scene switches to One-Eye walking into the estuary next to his cairn and disappearing below the surface. When the scene returns to the beach, the remaining tribe members quietly withdraw back into the forest, leaving the boy looking out at the ocean. The sky grows dark and the film ends with a series of images of the original mist-shrouded highlands where the story began, and One-Eye's visions there.

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