Valhalla Rising Nicholas Winding Refn

Valhalla Rising Nicholas Winding Refn
As the title suggests, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn's latest personification of male pretence roots itself in broad notions of Scandinavian mythology, with its Pagan versus Christian existential road trip to Jerusalem gone avant-garde. Without extraneous dialogue, action or discernable purpose, Valhalla Rising opens with the mute, unnamed, one-eyed man (Mads Mikkelsen) escaping from long-time captors – brutally slaughtering them via graphic disembowelment and head-smashing – with the aid of a young boy named Are (Maarten Stevenson). They wander hillsides; facile title cards pop up; dramatic red filter inserts represent an unseen land of the dead; they find some Vikings; listen to some glib nonsense about Christianity; hop on a boat to Jerusalem; are trapped in fog; and eventually dry-hump mud. The soundtrack is limited to blowing wind that occasionally builds to a crescendo when the film awkwardly channels Stanley Kubrick or Lars von Trier, with a portentous ambition not entirely dissimilar to the misguided Mike Figgis. Lengthy sequences of men squatting in the water or holding an axe on a mountain, hold little gravitas, given that this misguided art house attempt at creating martyr allegory for Christian hypocrisy is merely protracted, superficial posturing. Deliberate pacing can work well when there is something to ponder, but here there is little more than observations about primary colour aesthetics and incidental death. From what I can tell (and from what I observed from the amusing, smug director's interview included with the DVD), Winding Refn has tried to mask his lack of insight by limiting dialogue and narrative commitment. He understands the look and feeling of the films he is trying to mimic, presuming sagacity through restraint and gothic religious imagery, but unfortunately, this is all he understands, or seems to care about. Surely some will project meaning onto this blank canvas, buying into the superficial hocus-pocus as Heart of Darkness brilliance. But if you pay attention to the man behind the curtain, it all falls apart quite abruptly and almost becomes sad. (eOne)