ROFL: Random Outbursts From Lar! LarryNocella.com

1Aug/10Off

WikiLeaks vs. Valhalla Rising: Bumbling Crusader Remix

(WARNING: Spoilers ahead! If you plan to see the movie Valhalla Rising and do not want to know about it, do not read further.)

Take Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" character from his early Westerns, poke out one of his eyes, make him mute and drop him in Viking country around the time of the crusades. Done? Great! Now you've got the movie Valhalla Rising.

That would be the end of my commentary if Valhalla Rising was just an action film, but that's where its similarity to Clint's Westerns ends. The early Eastwood films have a clear sense of traditional story: a bad guy, a good guy, conflict, resolution. Valhalla Rising instead follows the wanderings of "One-Eye," who is mute for the entire film, leaving his motivations up for interpretation.

One-Eye joins a small band of Norse Christian crusaders sailing to "rescue" Jerusalem. They end up in a strange land that looks a lot like North America, and then life gets so bad, they're convinced they're in Hell. Along the way there's a lot of violence. The slow (but not dull) pace and ambient industrial soundtrack would be relaxing if someone wasn't getting beheaded, disemboweled or stabbed regularly.

This is not what you would call a "chick flick." It's a kick-ass action film, with a lot more to offer than visceral thrills.

Valhalla Rising is what I consider to be a "good" work of abstract art. With any abstract work, the observer has to do some interpretation. However, there's always the possibility of a work becoming so abstract that the observer exerts more creative energy than the artist, rendering the work along a scale ranging from useless to bullshit. Take for example, a work of modern art I once saw in a museum: a black stripe down a blank canvas. It was so open to interpretation, it was pointless.

Good abstract art's craftsmanship makes you think its creator was saying something, and kicks off the mental reflex to find explanation.

That's why when watching Valhalla Rising's bumbling crusaders, I couldn't help but think of the USA's floundering war efforts. Maybe there's some synchronicity going on, since WikiLeaks' Afghan War Diary was dominating the headlines at the time, or maybe, like One-Eye, the connections I'm seeing are just fevered visions.

Still, my favorite part of Valhalla Rising was the self-destructive optimism of the crusaders. With no obvious plan, they set off in a tiny boat that can barely hold their party. They suffer thirst and hunger. Finally hitting land, madness and native attacks add to their agony. This does not deter their leader, however. He holds his sword aloft, rapt with holy determination, claiming the land on behalf of his cause, oblivious or uncaring as all around him disintegrates.

Sound familiar? The only thing missing was the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Being American, I'm an optimist, I believe in change, and I believe in the superiority of democracy. However, even if I am morally correct, that doesn't exempt me from failure should I attempt the impossible and try to convert someone to that belief against their will. Seeing a crusade in action so close up in Valhalla Rising,  the absurdity of the conversion process really jumped out.

US forces are crusaders (especially in Afghanistan, its culture many more degrees removed from Western European tradition than Iraq) because the USA is trying to fundamentally change a country that has established its way of doing things for centuries.  I happen to think the way Afghanistan does things is barbaric, but I'm leaving aside what's right and what's wrong. I'm just saying that what I saw in the abstraction of Valhalla Rising is that crusading is futile.

You can't make people change their natures, or change the culture that shaped those natures when that culture has been thousands of years in the making and you're working within a time-frame of a few years between elections. That's as absurd as trying to make someone like a movie they didn't like. (Sorry, Pulp Fiction sucked.)

The auto-response here is: Well just because something is impossible doesn't mean we shouldn't try if we think we're in the right. A point well-taken, but at the same time, when you try an impossible thing and it proves to be impossible, quitting can easily be classified as good judgment. Even a dude with one eye could see that.

Or, like One-Eye, you can march willingly to your destruction. At least he did so without complaint, keeping his dignity intact.

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Larry Nocella writes The Semi-True Adventures of Lar blog at LarryNocella.com. He's the author of the novel Where Did This Come From? The world's first CarbonFree(R) novel according to Carbonfund.org. The book is available on Amazon.com as a paperback and Kindle eBook. It is also available for other eBook readers.