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Interview: Nicolas Winding Refn • Director

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The rise and death of mythology


- Nicolas Winding Refn speaks about the relationship between action and spirituality, religion and mythology in Valhalla Rising

Interview: Nicolas  Winding Refn  • Director

Cineuropa: Valhalla Rising [+see also:
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interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
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starts off very dynamically, with a lot of fighting and blood but then it apparently loses steam - there are a lot of what seem like empty spaces. It’s an unexpected development.

Nicolas Winding Refn : It’s space. I’ve always wanted to make a science fiction movie. It’s not sci-fi because it has nothing to do with science, but it’s mental fiction. And what it does is make people remember, because it becomes the closest thing to a drug movie in a very long time. It’s almost like your heartbeat has to slow down. The film starts very frantically, with violence and action, and then slowly just begins to open up. And you just have to go with it. Because if you try to fight it, or start analyzing it, you fall out. You just have to continue. But eventually, when you look at something for too long, you start staring past it - into the emptiness. It’s almost like meditation, or hypnotism. That’s how the movie is constructed.

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Wouldn’t one think it takes a longer than 90 minutes to achieve that?
I’m a very big fan of a 90-minute film. It works because it’s the length of a dream cycle. That’s why I think it’s a very natural instinct for any film. Lately there have been too many overly long films. It’s like people have to get the so-called “value for their money” so they just overdo everything. But I believe in the opposite. I believe in simplicity. Less is more.

The main character One Eye is a pagan warrior, isn’t he?
No. He is nothing. He doesn’t have a religion. He’s a monolith. Because people don’t know where he comes from. And as one of the pagan Vikings says to the other, “He’s belonged to you for five years, and no one’s had him for that long. Now it’s my turn to have him.” One Eye is a slave. It’s not until he escapes and starts to use tools, weapons, that he becomes a warrior. And then he becomes a god. Because then he can see the future, he has supernatural powers. Then he becomes a man.

It’s very abstract, and it goes beyond traditions. One of the challenges of making a Viking movie is that there are very preconceived notions, almost clichés, of Viking culture. It’s always like, Vikings are pagans, they believe in Odin and so on…. I didn’t want to make a normal Viking movie, that’s why I made a movie about Christian Vikings going to Jerusalem. And many people look at Valhalla in the obvious ways. But you can’t. You have to look at it more like, say, that One Eye just happens to appear. There’s no back history on him. He doesn’t even have a name, the boy names him One Eye.

When exactly does the film take place and what’s One Eye’s relationship to that?
The movie takes place in the 12th century, when Christianity was spreading very rapidly. There was a great turmoil in belief. People were moving from paganism, which is a crude form of religion, to an organized, one-god scenario. And One Eye appears in these moments. He travels with you because he is what you make him become. Some people on the boat see him as a saviour, some see him as the Devil. Like religion, they are using him to their own advantages. The movie ends with One Eye’s returning to his spirit - to the mountains, to the stone. He comes back to where he came from. And he will begin again, because One Eye is an entity that appears during religious turmoil. Valhalla Rising is the rising of mythology, and at the same time it’s also the death of mythology. Because Christianity will crush everything of the old belief system which is based on myths.

Why did you choose to shoot in Scotland?
Because I got more money out of Scotland than anywhere else, namely Scottish Screen paid us a lot to shoot there. It was very tough to get to those remote places that I wanted to go to. And I was obsessed about going to those strangest, most inhumane areas and shooting there. There is nothing, not even animals. Only men and nature.


international title: Valhalla Rising
original title: Valhalla Rising
country: Denmark, United Kingdom
sales agent: Wild Bunch
year: 2009
directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn
cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Gary Lewis, Jamie Sives, Alexander Morton, Ewan Stewart, Callum Mitchell, Gary McCormack, Douglas Russell, Andrew Flanagan, Maarten Steven

main awards/selection

Venezia 2009 Out of Competition

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