Archives For Director Nicolas Winding Refn

After wading through the violent streets of Copenhagen with the Pusher trilogy, director Nicholas Winding Refn hands in a more meditative piece of work that also just happens to be incredibly violent.

Set somewhere around 1096AD, Mads Mikkelsen plays a one-eyed slave forced by a group of Pagans to fight for money across the Scottish Highlands. Seen as nothing more than an object by his captors, One-Eye (as he will later be dubbed) is an incendiary device waiting to go off. Finally finding an opportunity to unleash his furry, One-Eye murders his captors and escapes, only to be followed by the youngest member of the Pagans (Maarten Stevenson).

The boy and One-Eye develop a bond that isn’t close to being in the same stable as ‘father and son’, but it holds a smidgen of co-dependence. When the duo stumble across a group of Christians looking for a rumble with anyone who isn’t Christian, they’re invited to join the mob on their crusade to the Holy Lands. However, when things go awry, both the boy and One-Eye are seen as a curse sent to stop the Christians in their righteous mission.

Bereft of speech for the most part, Valhalla Rising feels surprisingly simple in its structure and visuals when stacked against the likes of Refn’s later work such as Drive or The Neon Demon. However, whilst its plot is as rigid as cobwebs, the film still manages to keep its audience at arm’s length for most of its runtime.

One-Eye is seen to be prone to visions and whilst the Christians’ course change halfway through the film – they end up in what appears to somewhere in America – could simply be an act of God, there’s also the suggestion it could also have been the act of a god. One-Eye could be, for all intents and purposes, an Old Norse Pied Piper leading the sinful and corrupt to their doom. For all their pomp and circumstance, the Christians are hardly the most pious of people. They bicker, they fight, and they rape each other just to gain the upper hand. Perhaps they deserve the punishment that they’re dealt by One-Eye.

On the other hand, One-Eye could just as easily be someone looking to escape their plight, leading him to passively follow those around him until he once again feels the need to escape. As the film moves forward, Refn suggests that One-Eye only has one real option in front of him and when it arrives, it’s both brutal and swift. Mikkelsen dominates the film with his stoic presence. Even when he’s befalling a group of soldiers in one go, his heart rate never seems to rise above a warm-up. It’s no wonder he was chosen to play Dr Hannibal Lecter later in his career.

Looping back to the visuals, Refn captures a beautiful melancholy in the Scottish landscapes that underlines the loneliness and lack of belonging that befalls all the film’s characters. Equally, these postcard moments help emphasise the shocking violence that raises its ugly head every now and then. The audience may be surprised to find themselves admiring a gorgeous backdrop before screaming, ‘he just disembowelled someone with his bare hands! WHY?! Why would he do that?’

Bleak, beautiful and liable to irritate some with its lethargic pace, Valhalla Rising highlights Refn’s desire to experiment with storytelling and setting. It’s a stunning piece of work and makes you wonder what he would have done with Agatha Christie’s Marple had ITV let him off his leash.

Valhalla Rising was chosen to be reviewed by one of my lovely Patreons. Thank you for your selection! If  you’d like to learn more about my Patreon and choose a film for me to review, click the link here.

Out there in the cosmos, nestled between fact and fiction, there is a parallel universe where all the films you heard about that never made it to post-production live rich fulfilling lives. Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote, Tim Burton’s Superman, Peter Seller’s The Alien. They’re all there. And chief amongst them would be Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune. But we don’t live in that parallel universe, we live in someone else’s where Transformers is allowed to have three sequels and a Britain’s Got Talent finalist has their own film… This is indeed the darkest timeline.

So, hallelujah, for Frank Pavich’s documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune; a 90 minute rundown of the passion and energy Jodorowsky put into realizing Frank Herbert’s seminal novel, Dune. The documentary is largely a series of talking heads, with Jodorowsky obviously taking center stage. The 80 something director is on fine form as he talks about adapting a novel that he’d never read with the likes of HR Giger, Chris Foss and Pink Floyd.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn early on in the documentary, talks about Jodorowsky taking him through the story of his vision, using one of the last remaining copies of his storyboards. Refn admits that the adaptation would have been ‘awesome’ and that’s what makes the documentary a little infuriating. In a good way. It offers us peeks of animated storyboards and costumes designs, but it never feels like enough. Cracking open Jodorowsky’s imagination, the spiders of ideas that come running out are innumerable. With everything going on, we wish the film could stay longer than we’re allowed to. What we’re trying to say is, we’re jealous. Like the director of Drive, we want to see it all.

Jodorowsky suggests that maybe one day, someone will adapt his work into an animated film. Maybe they will, but for now we’ll have to settle with this fascinating look at the creative process in all its mind bending glory.

About The Author
My name is John Noonan. I’m a freelance writer that specialises in arts and entertainment. From genre flicks to chick flicks, I love the stuff. So much so, I started a film review blog at I also contribute to online and hard copy press, including FilmInk magazine.

If you like what you see, I am available for hire. You can contact me via the social media channels above or the form on my home page.