This won’t be a review of these two films evaluating their merits and detractions. More so, this blogpost is an investigative pondering, a thinking out loud about the power of movies serving as introspective lenses into ourselves. After seeing “Valhalla Rising” a few days ago, it has not left my bones or cognitive preoccupation. The brooding landscape, the haunting music, the brutal yet beguiling treatment of proverbial conflicts (man versus man, man versus society), the aesthetic achievement of a movie not ending with a conventionally bow tied happy ending, have moved me. I am responding to a movement in my marrow, an archetypal and iconic familiarity implanted by my father, now resurrected.
To give context, In “Valhalla Rising,” the clairvoyant Norseman protagonist, One Eye, is introduced as a captive exploited for the gladiator-style sport of combating and bludgeoning fellow captives. One Eye is temporarily compliant with his slavery and defers to his captor’s bloodlust for combat. He is then sold by his captor to another who hopes to use him to stave off the Christian Crusaders who have begun the onslaught of whomever they deem infidels. However, One Eye brutally takes back his freedom, and resumes his quest, accompanied now by the boy (called The Boy) who provided food while in captivity and will provide his voice, as One Eye is mute. Ironically, they encounter a group of Crusaders embarking for Jerusalem and join them. Then when the ship is trapped by obscuring mist and stilled currents, some crew interpret the presence of The Boy as an omen of their demise. Others are resolved in perceiving both One Eye and The Boy as a means to a supernatural confirmation of their quest, with One Eye providing messianic-like security. The men then land upon a taiga, and begin to realize that they are nowhere near the Holy Land of Jerusalem for which their chartered their course and agendas. They encounter aboriginals, as well as the fraying interior of the deepest and dilemma-ridden aspects of themselves, leading to revelatory unfolding.
Stories about lone crusaders and the conflicts they encounter fascinate me. The preservation of self despite the infliction or indifference of others, the indestructible resolve to uphold and defend what is believed even at cost to self, are compelling narratives. One Eye is embedded within an interwoven tapestry of two conflicts—man against man, and man against society. One Eye does not willfully engage or pursue conflicts with others, or deliberately position himself to take a side for his own advantage. In his quietude he remains resolute to keep moving, resilient in accepting and fulfilling his premonitions. Beholding to what seems to be a calling to something greater, he combats through the shadows and valleys of others’ intentions, expectations, and manipulations. This instinctive perseverance and acceptance of his fate are what confounds some characters and convicts others.
One Eye’s obligatory devotion to fulfilling his premonitions and the path they lay reminds me of my father. My father was a man who availed his limbs and logic to providing me the best life possible (on earth and heaven). Specifically, my father upheld the belief that it was his responsibility to instill within me religious practices and spiritual teachers to inform my life going forward. The most indelible impression he makes upon me are what he taught me about my origin. He had a way of explaining that we are translation of a divine intention. Dad taught me about God and Christ, and many Biblical figures to serve me in life as guideposts for my living. His favorite king was David, a man chosen by God to build and defend His kingdom knowing in his walk of earthen life he would both travail from and prevail against his personal foibles and fallibility. Jesus impressed him because of His determination despite any and all obstacles to do His Father’s work. Perhaps the parallel between One Eye and my father’s teachings lay in the fact that regardless of what the eye/s can see, there is a life purposefully divined and driven beyond physical unyieldingness, and to resolve to see and live life beyond circumstance strengthens one’s ability to do so sedulously and steadfastly.
Since seeing “Valhalla Rising,” I have also begun to reflect upon how I was also moved by the movie “The Book of Eli”. The latter is also a movie that moves my marrow me because of its theme of sight beyond circumstance. As like One Eye, Eli is diminished in his sight (he is completely blind). However, Eli’s blindness does not mentally, spiritually or physically deter him. Instead, his ordaining to deliver the last Bible propels Eli. The sight garnered by conviction emboldens both characters to resist surrendering to physical limitation or societal intimidation; in Eli’s case, Carnegie’s hunting and assaulting of him to acquire the physical Bible in his care. Throughout the movie, Eli invokes and demonstrates his Biblically-informed and infused sight to traverse an apocalyptic wasteland, the degeneration of others, and the attempted exploits of demagogue Carnegie to exploit and kill him exclusively for gain. Unfortunately, Carnegie’s greed and thirst for power literally shrink his sight to only register what is physical. The Bible Eli carries is written in Braille, which Carnegie cannot read and therefore exploit to wield his power. The Bible that Eli transports is actually committed to memory: he succeeds bringing it to a repository and printing press housed in Alcatraz before succumbing to his injuries.
My fascination with both protagonists is that the fragile meets the fierce. Despite what seems to be limits in the flesh, the execution of their beliefs is what avails them strength, courage and wisdom to continue pursuing their higher calling. Each protagonist prevails against his own carnal limitation. Despite the exploitation of others—attempted and executed—each remains undeterred to accomplish a goal greater than the obstacles that materialize and plague them. They remind me of my father, whose spiritual sight helped him to prevail against affliction. He taught me that we were born ordained to do special work on earth even before assuming earthly vessels, and celestially supported by the hierarchy of Heaven to complete it. Who we are metaphorically, mystically, molecularly, and metabolically overshadows and overpowers any obstacle we will experience in our walk on earth (perhaps this is also why movies like ”Contact” resound in me too . . .I’ll save that for another day). This teaching he embedded in me informs and instructs me some 15 years after his passing. Ironically, he died just nine days after my Baptism, and though for me premature, I have never believed this to be an accident as a surrender and restful return.
His job done on earth, as it is in Heaven.