Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising. 2009. Nicolas Winding Refn, director. Denmark.

Valhalla Rising introduces the character One Eye. It is the twelfth century. A clan of Vikings, in what seems to be the Scottish highlands, hold One Eye captive. He is a skilled combatant and made to fight for the entertainment and financial benefit of his captors.

Observed has been a not insignificant overlap between One Eye and the Norse god Odin. Each, for example, lacks use of an eye. The Völuspá – part of a collection of Old Norse poems – has Odin sacrifice the use of one of his eyes so as to receive insight regarding the future. The viewer of Valhalla Rising, while not learning the precise occasion on which One Eye lost one of his eyes, nonetheless experiences a one-eyed character with the extraordinary ability to see into the future.

In one Icelandic saga, Odin is described as having sacrificed one eye so as to drink from the Well of Wisdom. In Valhalla Rising, not coincidentally, each time One Eye receives visions of the future, waters feature prominently. One Eye, for example, sees a lake in which he will discover an arrowhead and that arrowhead will make possible his escape from those holding him in captivity. The image of his own eventual interaction with a group of Native Americans, to cite another example, is one he receives as he stands within the waters of the New World. In major respects – particularly related to the exchange of one sort of sight for another and insofar as water is featured in such an exchange – One Eye emerges as an incarnation of Odin.

Valhalla Rising is the work of the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. In his most recent film, Only God Forgives, the viewer is almost one-third of the way through the picture before Julian – central to the film and present from its earliest moments – speaks his second word. Here, in Valhalla Rising, One Eye is mute and utters not one word.

There are, of course, mediums other than the spoken word and it is through these mediums that Winding Refn seems inclined to communicate. His preference toward such mediums, however, can have the effect of creating uncertainty in viewers as to what is being communicated.

Winding Refn has claimed that the setting of Valhalla Rising is a land in turmoil. Christianity has reached new territories and has been brought by persons who bear swords.  Unfolding within Valhalla Rising is a sort of struggle between the new Christian religion and the older Norse mythology. This struggle is made apparent, literally, as some Vikings complain about followers of the “white Christ”; followers who, the Vikings believe, hate them and want them dead. Perhaps less literally, this struggle between Christianity and Norse mythology is occurring in the person of One Eye. This figure – a sort of incarnation of Odin – is similarly perceived to be driven by hate: “That’s how he survives. It’s why he never loses.”

Odin, in Norse mythology, rules Valhalla. Valhalla Rising presents his return to earth. It presents him as one who might possibly have effect in the struggle between Christianity and Norse mythology. Instead, as the picture draws to its close, the Odinic figure becomes Christic as he sacrifices his life for the boy who follows him.

Hate is why One Eye had previously survived. The transcendence found in self-sacrifice, though not appropriated by the Christians within Valhalla Rising, still signals a defeat of the Norse mythology by the non-aggressive core of Christianity.

One Eye – an Odin-turned-Christ – surrenders his axe as he walks toward those who are going to kill him. Valhalla existed only for those brave who died with a weapon in hand. While hate had been why One Eye never lost, love makes Valhalla no longer a home for him. The Christian vision, one that Winding Refn allows One Eye to glimpse in the final shot of Valhalla Rising, is that another home exists.

Valhalla Rising does not have an MPAA rating.

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3 thoughts on “Valhalla Rising

    1. Kelly Wilson Post author

      I am glad my reaction has given you a lens through which you might understand this film. While mine is an interpretation picked up by reading what the filmmaker has said about Valhalla Rising – and by what others have written since – I think it happens to be a pretty decent interpretation.

      1. Jon

        What I do not understand is the scene where everyone goes crazy – except for One Eye – and why one person would rape another in the mud?

        Why do they become all crazies? Have you an idea about this? Thank you.


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