Valhalla Rising–An Elemental Savior


The Story

One-eye is our protagonist, possessing an excess of strength, mute and without a vocabulary beyond the gestures of his physical self. Held prisoner by a tribe, he escapes with the aid of a boy he befriends. They come across a band of men who are on a quest to find the holy land. He accompanies them through their fated journeys and reaches a region that is the very antithesis of holy. A bunch of barbarians, or perhaps even cannibals, who are into this unfortunate habit of performing human sacrifices ensure these new arrivals don’t last long. One-eye and the boy are the last to survive and end up confronting the cannibals. I will not spoil the ending for you but let me just say its an iconic moment that makes you reconsider all the impressions one has made of one-eye.

Characters and Their Motivations

If you are looking for characters that anguish whether to do or not to do, then you’d be disappointed. This is territory and times where deliberation can often mean meeting your maker quicker than normal.

Bareness of the landscape, animality of man and a marginally ennobled primal pursuits come together in a bleak harmony. Without the decorations of a complicated plot or the distractions of a familiar setting, the narrative transports us to a place and time where the actions and motivations of the characters are observed objectively.

Survival is everything here. And of course the elusive myth of the Christian tradition during the middle ages of the Promised Land,  an alluring combination of adventure, salvation and treasure attracts the sort that heaven would cringe from, or at least we believe so. But therein lies the twist.

Beyond the Savage

(Spoiler alert, stop reading if you intend to watch the movie)

One-eye and the boy come across the barbarians who surround them on a jagged terrain. With One-Eye’s skill in violence it is evident there is a slim chance he would come out victorious. He considers the odds carefully and we almost feel a mental switch that goes off in his head and understand a decision has been made and do not know it yet. Having seen his prowess so far we wait in anticipation for a blur of limbs and hope to see the barbarians eased from their cannibalistic predicaments.

Now One-eye calmly glances at the boy, in a look that says little to us. He walks towards the barbarians in silence, when within striking distance he quietly drops his weapon and offers himself as a sacrifice.  In that one single instant our mental model of One-eye and his moral stature undergoes a shock so deep that I found myself zipping through all the impressions of him and his actions in the space of a couple of seconds. Every past act of One-eye I revisited and assessed them in the light of this single and supreme gesture.

And that act elevated the character and this movie to something approaching philosophy, and I mean that in a good way.

A Savior?

Every stage of evolution has its heroes. The yet-to-be-human, the barbarian and the contemporary man each have their heroic standards. Regardless of what the stage the pattern is simple. One who exceeds the conditions of his existence is counted as a hero. But the savior is something beyond the idea of a hero. There is in him a conscious understanding of the terrible price that he must pay to redeem himself and those that depend on him and he willingly pays it.

Our cultural blinkers cloud and constrain our perception of who a savior is and can be. With One-Eye and his sacrifice I left behind a few of these blinkers.