Amoeblog


Immigrant Wrong: Valhalla Rising and Machete

Posted by Charles Reece, September 12, 2010 11:29pm | Post a Comment
Yet more summer action films! These two deal with America's continuing problem with illegal immigration. In Nicholas Refn's Valhalla Rising, a bunch of crusading Christian Vikings in the 10th century are punished for attempting to force their beliefs on America's indigenous population. In Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis' Machete, a bunch of Texans in modern day are punished by Mexican invaders for acting as if they were indigenous. Had the Vikings made it to the land we now call Texas and settled there 1,100 years ago, would they be called native Texans?

valhalla rising poster french

I was a bit confused about what was going on in Valhalla Rising, where the Vikings leave Norway looking for Jerusalem (but go off course by 1,800 miles), float through some mist for a little while (shorter than flying), go through a collective hallucination involving body paint, mud bathing and burly butt rape, and then wind up getting carved up by a bunch of Native Americans (when I thought they were still near home). The exact meaning of which doesn't really matter, since it's intended as a head film à la the late 60s to early 70s, e.g., 2001, Aguirre: Wrath of God and El Topo. Refn is pastiche filmmaker, like Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino, who wears his influences on his sleeve. You might call it syncretism if you like what he does, or postmodern gimmickry if you don't. I enjoyed his spin on Kubrick last time out, and how many people are making psychotropic films nowadays? The current film answers the question no one probably asked: what would have happened if Werner Herzog were a fan of Frank Miller? In addition to the continuing rejuvenation of the sword-and-sandal genre, the no-name hero is a mute, one-eyed oracle who slaughters people with a hatchet, accompanied by a telepathic boy who does all the talking for him, sort of a tripped-out mix of Lone Wolf & Cub with Fistful of Dollars. And Refn knows better than most how to shoot a Leone-style close up, where the face is part of the geography. The attempt at big metaphysical importance has something to do with One-Eye's journey with the Christians being a fait accompli due to his precognitive visions. He's willing to apologetically martyr himself for the colonial shitstorm that'll be coming to the aboriginal Americans in a few 100 years. But I'm satisfied with the geeky filmic allusions and bodacious butchery. 

machete poster mr. cartoon

While Valhalla Rising dares to be nonsensical, Machete attempts fair-and-balanced discourse, which makes for one dull exploitation film. Its main villain is a Texan senator (Robert DeNiro) whose campaign is based on stirring up fear and hatred of Mexican illegal immigrants (his ads compare them to cockroaches and the like). Yet, he's not really Texan, just a carpetbagger with a phony accent. And not wishing to take sides with a political party, he's an independent in a state of Republicans. You begin to doubt whether there are any actual native Texans against illegal immigrants. To add to the film's fair-mindedness, there's a scene showing that Chicanos are just as opposed to incoming Mexicans as native-born whites. The truly Texan resistance is represented as a rogue organization (based on the vigilante Minuteman Project) run by Don Johnson with white-trash sideburns and a cowboy hat. That this is a rogue group lets off the hook the casual racism of the average voter. To be even more fair minded/completely devoid of real world politics, the man behind it all, who's funding both the Senator and the vigilantes, is a Mexican crime boss (Steven Seagal in brown face). I can't imagine anyone being offended by the ideas in this film, unless (like me) one is offended by the inoffensive. As for the bloodshed, all the best stuff is in the trailer (which is where this project should've remained). On the plus side, it deserves credit for providing a vehicle for Danny Trejo to make out with three of Hollywood's gossip-rag starlets. 

Relevant Tags

Action (75), Nicholas Refn (3), Robert Rodriguez (1), Valhalla Rising (2), Machete (2)