Matchup of the Day: Under the Skin vs. Valhalla Rising
Today we have two artsy films shot in Scotland about mysterious killers. One is an alien seductress who lures men to a bizarre demise. The other is a one-eyed medieval warrior who dispatches men the old-fashioned way. It’s Valhalla Rising vs. Under the Skin.
According to the article “Valhalla Rising: A Viking Odyssey”, director Nicolas Winding Refn says of his film “Valhalla Rising is a sci-fi movie. It’s about traveling into outer space beyond the stars. It’s like an acid trip. It’s almost like a post-apocalyptic future.” He even goes so far as to call Rising his version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, which is more identifiable as science fiction, also draws comparisons to the Stanley Kubrick film, though mostly for its enigmatic nature and musical score.
In both Rising and Skin, the protagonists take a journey after leaving behind their lives as killers in the service of others. Mads Mikkelsen plays One-Eye, a savagely efficient fighter forced to engage in lethal combat with other men. He is lead around by a collar and kept in a cage by the Pagan Vikings who are his captors. Scarlett Johansson plays The Female. She is an alien in the guise of a comely Earth woman whose sole purpose appears to be seducing human men to their doom. Her overseers ride around on motorcycles and clean up any loose ends. Rising is presented in six chapters. It may be possible to (roughly) fit Skin into that format, since both films kind of follow a similar structure.
This is the first chapter in Valhalla Rising. One Eye, whose origin is never explained, is forced to fight several men to the death by his captors. He manages to escape when he finds an arrowhead, which he uses to cut through the collar used to secure him. After slaying everyone involved he sets out on his way. A young boy who was part of the group follows.
The Female takes longer to escape her situation. Throughout the first hour, she is shown driving around and picking up potential victims. She lures the men to various locations where they are submerged in a black substance. They float around until their skin is removed and their insides are collected for an unknown purpose. The Female appears to be entirely detached from the process. Her first inkling of human feeling occurs when she meets a man with a facial deformity. She seems to relate to him being as alien in his skin as she is in her own, and decides to spare him. The Female abandons her role as the predator and attempts to explore what it is to be human.
One Eye meets up with some Christian Vikings who are preparing to travel to Jerusalem to liberate the Holy Land. They know of his reputation as a killing machine and invite him to come along. He never actually speaks in the movie, so that explains the chapter title. The boy tells the Vikings that One Eye is from Hell, probably because one of the Pagans suggested the same thing.
The Female drives off to a mist-shrouded location and looks around contemplatively. Earlier in the film, she only speaks when addressing her prey. From this point on she barely says anything.
MEN OF GOD
The Vikings drift along on a boat for a considerable amount of time lost in the fog. A Viking blames the boy for cursing their expedition and tries to kill him. One Eye steps in and defends the boy.
The Female attempts to eat a piece of cake at a restaurant, but can’t digest it. Later, during a bus ride, she meets a man who shows concern for her because she appears lost.
THE HOLY LAND
The Vikings fail to reach the Holy Land. Instead, they end up in what may be North America. A member of the group turns up missing and they start to believe One Eye is out to do them all in. When they set sail again in order to figure out where they are, one of them is shot by an arrow.
The man from the bus takes The Female to his home. He treats her kindly, at one point even carrying her over a mud puddle. She seems to develop romantic feelings for him and tries to become intimate. This works about as well as the cake incident, however. (There is a scene where she checks herself out, unclothed, in a mirror. I took it to mean she was starting to see herself as a person rather than an object of seduction.)
The Vikings start to go crazy. The missing member returns and claims to read One Eye’s mind, who he says thinks they are in Hell. One Eye kills two men who try to attack him. The leader starts planning to build a New Jerusalem.
The Female runs off into the forest. She is entirely vulnerable and confused.
One Eye and boy go off on their own, leaving the leader to his delusions. They encounter some natives. One Eye seems to willingly allow them to kill him.
The Female encounters a logger who attempts to sexually assault her. In the struggle, her human skin is torn revealing her alien body. The logger douses her with gasoline and sets her on fire.
Throughout Valhalla Rising, One Eye experiences premonitions of what will happen to him. This is probably why he puts up no resistance with the natives. The Female, on the other hand, only has control over her situation at the beginning of the film. Once she starts deviating from her seduce-and-kill duties, she experiences greater uncertainty.