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Film / Valhalla Rising

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He was brought up out of Hel.

"He's driven by hate. It's how he survives, and why he never loses. He'll come because he has to come; to finish it."
The Chieftain, on One-Eye

Valhalla Rising is a 2009 film (released in the States in 2010), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Mads Mikkelsen. The film was shot entirely in Scotland, and takes place in 1000 AD.

For years, One-Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength, has been held prisoner by the chieftain Barde. Aided by a boy, Are, he kills his captors and together they escape, beginning a journey into the heart of darkness. On their flight, One-Eye and Are board a Viking vessel headed out for "the Holy Land", but the ship is soon engulfed by an endless fog that misdirects them to an unknown land. As the new land reveals its secrets and the Vikings meet a ghastly fate, One-Eye discovers his true self.

Tropes featured in Valhalla Rising include:

  • A God Am I: Eirik, the leader of the Christian Norsemen, begins to have increasingly grandiose delusions of building a new Jerusalem, even though he and his men are hopelessly stranded in the new world. While he stops short of actually declaring himself a god, his increasing egotism and weakening sanity leave no doubt in his mind that his cause is God's cause.
  • All There in the Script: Are and Barde are not named in dialogue, and the end credits just list the actors playing One-Eye, "Pagans", and "Christian Vikings." The film's official website also gives One-Eye's name as "Harald", but it is never mentioned in the film or credits.
  • Artistic License – History: The film makes very few historical claims, but even then they don't match up very well. The Crusades were triggered in 1095, about a century later than the purported setting of the movie.— While the period around 1000 AD saw indeed some violent confrontations between pagans and Christians in Norway, such religious struggles had little impact in the British Isles. Then again, it's never really specified whether the first part of the movie is supposed to take place in Scotland (where it's filmed), or possibly in Norway, the Orkney islands, or Iceland.
  • The Atoner: One-Eye accompanies the Christians on their crusade when he is told that he can cleanse his soul by committing to the cause
  • Audible Sharpness: Not only with swords and knives being unsheathed, but even an axe being calmly moved through the air.
  • Bound and Gagged: Being a prisoner, One-Eye spends a lot of time in chains. Not gagged, but, well, he doesn't talk anyway.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: By the end, the group has started to break up and turn on one another in panic.
  • Combat Pragmatist: One-Eye uses any means available to him when in a fight: rocks, arrowheads and so on.
  • Covers Always Lie: The British DVD cover presents the film as a 300-style action movie, rather than the bleak suspense thriller which the box actually contains. European covers were generally more loyal.
  • Crapsack World: There are three distinct groups of people in the movie: Norse pagans, Norse Christians, and Native Americans. All three of them are introduced either murdering people or having just finished murdering people.
  • The Dreaded: One-eye is already known, and feared, by the time the movie begins, as one of the Christian Norsemen immediately recognizes him and knows not to mess with him.
  • The Drifter: It's mentioned that One-eye never stays in one place, among one people for more than five years.
  • Gorn: Bludgeoning, disembowelment, and other forms of mutilation are all shown in excruciating detail.
  • Gladiator Games: One-Eye's captors bet on the outcome of his fights.
  • Handicapped Badass: One-Eye is missing an eye and mute, but none of this prevents him from being a formidable warrior.
  • Kid Sidekick: After One-Eye kills the captors of the boy Are, Are accompanies him on his journey.
  • Mud Wrestling: One-Eye and his opponent do this during a flashback of a gladiatorial fight.
  • Mysterious Protector: One-Eye becomes this to Are.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: One-Eye quickly dispatches of the man who means to kill Are, thinking him a curse. In fact, One-Eye never fights somebody who has not attacked or mistreated him in anyway.
  • No Name Given: The main character's real name is never given, mostly because he doesn't talk, and is christened "One-Eye" by the kid (for obvious reasons).
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Most notable in the Ominous Fog sequence. The movie doesn't get its horror factor from violence alone, but from its consistently bleak and dreading atmosphere, some surreal imagery, and the soundtrack.
  • Ocean Madness: One of the Vikings, while stranded at sea, breaks down and drinks sea water.
  • Off with His Head!: The fate of the Chieftain who imprisoned One-Eye, as well as others.
  • Ominous Fog: An almost supernatural mist gets the group horribly lost while at sea.
  • Precision F-Strike: When a guy gets shot by an arrow, the rest of the team start screaming and swearing profusely. It's quite a shock considering most of the rest of the film involves very little talking in general. In fact, even when the man at the beginning is having his entrails removed, there is no swearing at all!
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Christian. Vikings. It speaks for itself.
  • Redemption Equals Death: At the end of the film, One-Eye drops his weapon and calmly walks up to a group of Native American warriors, who bludgeon him to death in front of Are.
  • Reluctant Warrior: One-Eye is enslaved and forced to fight in deadly gladiatorial games. One-Eye never attacks anyone that did not attack him first or the Boy. He seems to only fight in self-defense.
    • He does join the other Crusaders as they jump off their ship to fight the unseen Indians that opened fire on them, which is again another act of defending himself and the Boy.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Who was One-Eye? Were did he come from? The film leaves it open. A popular theory is that he is Odin, with the obvious parallel is his missing eye. Other hints is that the entire opening is a loose adaptation of Grímnismál with Barde standing in for Geirröth and Are as Agnarr, as well as his strange visions.
  • The Savage Indian: They end up in somewhere in the North Americas and One-Eye eventually gets almost ritualistically beaten to death by the Natives. They are not any more savage than the Norsemen, however; and their aggression is possibly caused by the Norsemen desecrating a burial ground earlier by erecting a Christian cross near it and stealing some psychotropic moonshine left on the aerial sepulture scaffolds.
  • Scenery Porn: Many beautiful shots of the Scottish highlands, yes even the supposed Newfoundland forests in the latter half of the film are in fact landscapes that can be found in Scotland.
  • Silence Is Golden: As a recurring trait of Nicholas Winding Refn's films, the movie has a very sparse script.
  • Spiritual Successor: The film clearly draws a great deal of influence from Aguirre, the Wrath of God, with its European warriors blundering through the New World, adrift on a river, beset by hostile inhabitants, slowly going insane, and ultimately meeting a variety of grisly ends.
  • Token Good Teammate: Gary Lewis' character is probably the closest thing that the Christian Vikings have to one of these. He doesn't have any particular problem with carrying out a holy war, but he's also the most compassionate and level-headed character in the movie.
  • Translation Convention: The Vikings all speak modern Scottish English, while historically they would have spoken the Caithness dialect of Old Norse. Then, the only non-Scottish actor plays a mute and Nicolas Winding Refn did not want the character to speak with various accents.
  • The Speechless: It's never clarified if One-Eye can't speak or just doesn't.
  • With My Hands Tied: In the beginning, One-Eye is dragged into the gladiator fight before the Boy can untie his hands. This does not stop One-Eye from killing the other gladiator one bit.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Of the crusaders, 9 are alive (excluding One-Eye and the Boy) when the ship finally reaches land. One vanishes and later returns insane, one is shot with an arrow, 3 are killed by One-Eye, the leader stabs the priest and is then killed by the Indians and the son of the leader's fate is left unknown. But what happened to the 9th member?