Reflections of ancient mythological heroes and quests are very common in modern literature, music, cinema, and art. The film called “Valhalla Rising” is a good example of such reflection. The main character of the film represents Odin, the most important god of Norse mythology. He is famous for his thirst for knowledge and for the desire to learn. One Eye, the main character of “Valhalla Rising,” possesses many distinct features of Odin and goes through his quest, which ends with a sacrifice, pursuing his main goal, looking for knowledge, and returning to the underworld.
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Ancient mythology serves as a great and limitless source of inspiration for the artists and thinkers of the modern world. The characters and events that reflect the ancient legends can be found in literature, music, cinema, and art of the present days. The mysterious stories of the past that survived through the centuries keep bothering our imagination; this is why the most famous contemporary artists try to present their audiences with modern representations and new understandings of ancient mythological creatures and their adventures. One of such reflections is the film called “Valhalla Rising” created by Nicholas Winding Refn in 2009.
The main character of the film, One Eye, goes through a course of spontaneous and dramatic events, which leads to his death. One Eye is thrown into one tragic situation after another. Yet, he silently walks his way as if he knows that this was his mission, and as if all of these events had a final goal and value the character was aware of. One Eye, the representative of a pagan society, gets involved in a Christian Crusade. The participants of this mission mention that they have heard about the warrior called One Eye and the priest of the group tells him that by joining the Crusade, he would have a chance to free himself from his inner sufferings, make his soul pure, clean and sinless. From the behavior of the main character, is it noticeable that none of the words or behaviors of the people around make any impression on him? One Eye forms his decisions based on his own conclusions, senses, and knowledge.
In the film by Nicholas Winding Refn One Eye, played by the famous Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen impersonates one of the most well known and important gods of Norse mythology, Odin. This pagan Scandinavian god was a symbol of several notions such as war and death, wisdom and knowledge, persistence, and sacrifice (Why Odin Is One Eyed 2014). Here is the list of Odin’s most important characteristics:
- He played the leading role in the Scandinavian pantheon of gods and was also called “Father of the slain.”
- Odin was the king of Valhalla, the place where heroes killed in combat went after death.
- According to the myth, Odin had a great thirst for knowledge. In order to drink from the famous well of wisdom, the god had to bring a sacrifice to the guardian of the well, giant Mimir. Following the guardian’s demand, Odin plucked one of his eyes out and dropped it into the well. After that, the giant allowed Odin to drink from the well. Due to the events of this quest for knowledge, Odin was always depicted as a one-eyed man.
- Mimir asked for an eye in exchange for a sip from the well for a reason. The wisdom Odin obtained after drinking the magical water gave him an amazing perception of the world around, he lost one of his eyes that could see the physical side of things, but he received the ability to perceive what was invisible to the others.
- Odin was an excellent warrior and the god of violence and fury. On the battlefield, he was unstoppable and merciless.
The similarities between One Eye and Odin are quite obvious. First of all, the main character of “Valhalla Rising” misses one of his eyes. The cause of this trauma remains unknown to the audience. At the same time, the viewers of the film from the very beginning get to notice that the main character is a great fighter, he is able to defeat any rival, even if a group of men attacks him and he is leashed to a pole. One Eye is fantastically good at combat, and his rivals and captors often notice that he is full of hatred and fury. Besides, the first part of the film is called “Wrath.” This presents the viewers with more similar features between Odin and One Eye. Moreover, soon we notice that One Eye has supernatural powers and is able to have premonitions, he can see beyond the physical side of things, just like the legendary god did. It is also shown that the silent warrior called One Eye came from a pagan society and represented the beliefs that dwelled on the territory of Scandinavia before the Christian crusaders came. When the leader of the crusaders asks the boy that accompanies One Eye through his quest where this warrior came from, the boy answers that he was taken away from the hell that is on the other side of the ocean (Andersen 2009). The boy, obviously, is talking about the underworld, the kingdom of the dead.
The adventure of One Eye presented in “Valhalla Rising” is an interpretation of one of Odin’s quests for wisdom. It is very noticeable that the character surrenders to his destiny and goes wherever the course of events takes him. At the same time, his premonitions help him to see his path and follow it accurately. One-Eye agrees to accompany the crusaders and travel to the new land only because he has seen this in one of his visions. One Eye also senses when his time to die comes. He starts to build a cairn, a Nordic memorial for the dead. From the way One Eye surrenders to his killers, it seems that death was the purpose of his quest, yet he had plenty of opportunities to die while he was a captive, and he still fought for his life. This fact makes it clear that One Eye was looking for wisdom and knowledge, which he obtained in the new land. After that, he started getting ready to die and tried to build a cairn for himself.
The creators of the film do not tell the audience what exactly One Eye came to this world for. It could have been knowledgeable about the new Christian gods, or about the new lands, or about the people inhabiting the world of that time. Whatever his goal was, One Eye accomplished it and left without a fight, returning to where he came from.
Andersen, J. (Producer) & Refn, N. W. (Director). (2009). Valhalla Rising [Motion picture]. Denmark & United Kingdom: Scanbox Entertainment.
Why Odin Is One Eyed. (2014). Norse Mythology. Web.