I’m a huge fan of visual storytelling, that is, the use of action and story elements to tell the story rather than so much dialogue.

So, the fact that the first ten to twenty minutes of Valhalla Rising has zero dialogue got me incredibly excited. I was immediately pulled into the story world to know the meaning it created for itself with every minute of its silent journey.

However, the excitement was short-lived. Whereas I appreciated the little bit of dialogue when it did peek through, it seemed as though the story became lost in its own attempt at being “serious” and “gritty.”

I also saw that the use of metaphors that were very visible not only in the cinematography and plot but in the actual editing of the film itself. For instance, the quick cuts between scenes were used to create a sense of instability which was a theme in the story.

And the plot was linear but the scenes didn’t feel as much, especially with the ‘red’ scenes. What I presumed with that visuals was what One Eye (Mads Mikkelson) could see through his unusable eye. Like a look into the future. I found this interesting and was definitely a positive for me. It added more magic to the aura of mysticism the film had already created around him.

But the plot fell apart during the part called HELL. We were given many different images and scenarios, which I assumed were metaphorical depictions of what HELL means to different men. And this, for me, didn’t seem to go with the rest of the themes of the movie.

Also because a lot of the scenarios, no matter how out there and metaphorical, were grounded in the characters and their various goals – springing up new characters with no goals, characters just existing and no clock to tell us how long any of this had been going on, just didn’t help. This may have been the director’s intent, but I do not think it worked. It felt too different from everything we had been given thus far.

I believe films give us the language with which to interpret their messages. They do this within the first act, and we are to use this language to make sense of the rest of the film. However, Valhalla Rising gave us the language but then changed it how they liked withing the movie. We had used One Eye as a vessel to make sense of the world, but now even HE seemed to be as confused as we are. This was disorientating and distracting. 

And like that wasn’t bad enough – the ending worst came in the form of a pan to a clear sky, and we see our protagonist’s face fade into the same colour as the sky, and then fade out. This may have been to convey that his anger – the colour red – was finally gone, and he was at peace. But this was a very cheesy and lazy way to do so.

Also, I don’t understand how the boy was saved through his sacrifice of death: how is he to build a boat and escape by himself? But this may just be me missing the deeper meaning the director was trying to convey.

On the bright side, My favourite scene was definitely Act 3: Men of God. It was an absolutely brilliant use of one location and minimal props.

They were all in a ship for the whole act and yet we were totally invested in what was going on. The dialogue was another favourite. It was well-written and cut down to the bone in terms of how quickly the character would make their point. The chief would need only two lines to let you understand just how delusional he was in his quest for the Holy Land. I think that is an amazing achievement, I applaud the scriptwriter for that. 

Film Essay is an offshoot of Albantsho’s monthly film activity; we pick a classic or milestone movie, watch and share an in-depth Thought essay written by any one of our fine writers. You too can partake in the film activity and join the conversation.  Join on Slack or FB Group