White Men in Dark Ages America

07/14/2010 1:00 AM |

Valhalla Rising
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Valhalla Rising is set at first on “the fringes of the earth,” on fog-veiled hills and smoke-shrouded seas that suggest a planet only half-formed—just like the civilization taking shape upon its surface. It’s 1000 CE and Viking heathens, when not fleeing as far as Scottish moors from the approaching “followers of the White Christ,” pit their kept-humans against each other for sport, animal-men like the mute One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) who brutally beat each other with deafening thuds and revolting squishes. Valhalla’s horrifyingly elemental, all wind, iron, wood and blood; with minimal dialogue and an icy palette, Refn exploits a post-apocalyptic aesthetic to evoke pre-civilization, blurring the line between culture’s beginning and end.

Indeed: after One Eye slaughters his slave-drivers and pals up with a tween (Maarten Stevenson) to roam the awful heaths, Valhalla recalls The Road, just set 1000 years earlier… oh, and with Michael Myers as its hero and Jesus Freaks as the bad guys. By necessity, man-and-boy team up with Civilizing Christians, who’re just as savage as the savages, and sail off for the Crusades. But they misnavigate their ghost-ship and land instead in the Americas. Refn adopts a Malickian tone for this stunning Missionary Warriors in Hell chapter, as the crusaders devolve into a primeval state, acquiring a murderous, raping ferocity equal only to that of the natives. The gag here is that the first English-speaking white men to set foot upon the continent were violent fanatics using religion to justify their bloodlust—not, you’ll note, unlike the most recent.

Opens July 16