“See You in Valhalla”

Eclectic Media Outlet No. 2

It’s been awhile since I wrote one of these posts; but I hope to start incorporating them into the blog more often… because films (and other media) play such a large — and beautiful — role in my life.

“See You in Valhalla” (2015)

“See You in Valhalla” is a part of several of my film collections — addiction, dysfunctional families, indie films, and suicide.

The Draw and Decision to Own

My father has stated, on more than one occasion, that he would like to have a Viking funeral when he dies; so any title that refers to Valhalla — or Norse mythology — quite naturally intrigues me.

Going in, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this film… but ultimately found it to be one of those quietly brilliant movies that very few ever saw. (I have yet to encounter another cinephile that has seen it.) After viewing it the first time, I went online and purchased a hard copy immediately… and it will stay in my permanent collection.

Synopsis and Personal Meaning

“See You in Valhalla” is about a family that has lost a son — and a sibling — to suicide (albeit by proxy… but intentional proxy).

Magnus — a character with a soul plagued by meth addiction — returns from a Viking rehabilitation colony with his girlfriend, only to find that she cannot stay sober. When she later dies from an overdose, Magnus charges over to the dealer’s home and kills him with a sword. He is shot in the process, leaving behind a suicide note for his family… who are left to deal with the fallout.

Families are Complicated

When his sister, Johana (“Joe”) sees the story on the evening news, she turns to her boyfriend — explaining that the “Viking Guy” is her brother — and says, “I need to go home. I need to go home, right? That’s what you do after someone dies. I can’t believe I have to deal with these people.”

“Who?” her boyfriend inquires.

“My family.”

“Do you not like them?”

“It’s very complicated.”

Now, originally, I saw this film before my own family lost my younger brother, Nicky, to suicide; but after that tragic event, this scene is one that I have a deeper understanding for.

Families are complicated — dysfunctional or not — and sometimes when you need them most, you’re not really sure that you want to “deal” with them.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is the first time that the family — reunited in grief, after years of not having seen one another — sits down to dinner. The conversation dissolves very quickly into old hurts and renewed resentments; but Brent and Jarret Tarnol (the writer and director) do a brilliant job of infusing humor into dark subject matter; and this scene is no exception.

After the fight at the dinner table, Joe later tries to explain to her father’s girlfriend why it’s so hard for her to return home, “It’s every scar, every bruise. You know. Every stupid f*cking memory is… it’s here.”

Oh, how true that is… but every wonderful, warm, sparkling memory is also imbued in our families; and we often so quickly forget about those, in the face of tragedy.

Ⓒ Tarnol Group Pictures and ARC Entertainment

The Blame Game

Another poignant moment in the film is when Don, the oldest sibling, has an emotional breakdown and screams at his father, “Magnus was f*cking self-destructing in front of your very eyes, where the f*ck were you?!”

When a family loses someone to suicide, there is — unfortunately — a lot of blame thrown around. It’s easier to be angry at the people that are still standing, than it is to be with the person you’ve lost.

There are so many unanswerable questions… and all you want are answers. You don’t just blame the people around you; you also blame yourself.

Michael Weston (“Garden State”), who plays Don, does such an excellent job in this scene that — even if you haven’t lost someone close to you to suicide — your heart feels as if it’s been ripped from your chest and thrown to the floor.

Strength in Weakness

Addiction is a tumultuous disease, because you never truly escape it. You can learn to cope with it, to live with it, to somewhat control it… but you’re never free of it. Sobriety is something that you fight for, or something that you lose. There is no inbetween.

There is a passage from Magnus’s journal that describes this beautifully:

“Our rehabilitation was over, and it was time to face the world ahead. These modern Vikings showed us their tools of sobriety. Our life is no longer controlled by substances. We’ve rid ourselves of bad habits and vices, but I reckon to see no difference between fantasy and reality. But a true Viking, no matter how trapped he may feel, must face dragons head-on no matter the consequence. This is the Viking way. Never give up. Never submit. Never surrender to any man or any thing.”

Magnus manages to not surrender; but cannot handle the pain when his girlfriend relapses (and later overdoses).

There is a saying in the rooms of the Anonymous, “You will step over bodies in your journey towards sobriety.” And unfortunately, most of us find this to be true. I have lost my brother, and a number of friends, to addiction… and it sometimes makes you question the why of it all.

Later in the film, as the siblings gather around their father, he shares his favorite passage from Magnus’s journal, “A wolf is always strongest when he’s with his pack. Every day a dire wolf dies, but the pack must stay together. And when they do, in the end, they will prevail. The tighter the pack, the stronger the wolf.”

This is a beautiful synopsis of how a family survives the tortuous pain of losing a loved one before their time.

My own family has stuck together in our grief. They are my source of solace and refuge… because only they can understand the dark cloud that has followed me tirelessly around, since losing Nicky.

The Moral of the Story

What Brent and Jarret Tarnol convey through the subtle beauty of this film is that home is one of the most painful — and most healing — places we have to go.

I hope, Dear Reader, that you are fortunate enough to find this to be true in your own life.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”

Eclectic Media Outlet No. 1

In this series of posts I will be exploring the hundreds — literally hundreds — of DVDs and Blu-rays that my husband, Mitchell, and I own. Why that many, you might ask. Well… the younger generation may not remember the era that pre-dated the gaggle of streaming services now available; but I assure you that once upon a time, if you wanted to watch a movie (or a television series) more than once, you were obligated to buy a hard copy of such. And as I stated on my author page, I am a media junkie.

I don’t plan to bore my readers with synopsis information that can be gleaned by visiting IMDB (beyond some of the basic facts, just in case someone has an interest in watching the materials mentioned here), but more to share my personal connection to these films. And perhaps along the way, I will find a few that need to be weeded out and turned over to our local media exchange.

So let’s get started, shall we?!

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” (2010)

© Misher Films Wayfare Entertainment

“It Kind of a Funny Story” is part of what I like to call my “loony bin” collection. After taking a few “vacations” to local mental institutions myself, I became obsessed with films about them; and this one is one of the lighter-hearted among them, while also demonstrating some terrible truths about the broken mental healthcare system. (For those of you who enjoy reading the books that precede films, this one is based on the titular young adult novel by Ned Vizzini.)

One of my favorite moments in the film (because sadly, there is truth in it) happens in one of the opening scenes. Craig, a sixteen-year-old who is struggling with suicidal ideations, rides his bike to a local hospital in New York City. He approaches the counter and says to the charge nurse, “I, um… I want to kill myself.” Annoyed with the fact that he has interrupted a personal phone call, the nurse hands him a clipboard and says, “Fill this out,” immediately returning to her call without further instruction and/or interaction with Craig.

At five a.m. he sits in an empty waiting room, and then has to plead with the Emergency Room’s attending physician to admit him, who at one point says to the boy that the patients he admits are “really sick”, and not just dealing with minor depression. But Craig persists, and the doctor does eventually commit him to the mental health ward.

Ten minutes into a tour of the facility, Craig decides that he’s all better — not nearly as crazy as the other patients — and asks to be released; but, as those of us who have had the unfortunate experience of being admitted under a “suicide hold” know, he’s now in it for the duration (which in this case is five days, compared to the shorter 72-hour holds that I was subjected to).

What I like about this film is that the facility itself is well presented. It actually looks like the institutions that I have spent time in. Shoelaces and belts are taken (in my case, drawstrings were also removed from my pajama pants), and most of the time, the patients on the ward are left to their own devices until it’s time to take their medications. However, Craig receives much better care from the ward’s psychiatrist than I ever did.

The cast of the film is — in my humble opinion — stellar. Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”) is stunning as Bobby (the ward’s most beloved patient). Emma Roberts (“American Horror Story”), Lauren Graham (“The Gilmore Girls”), Thomas Mann (“Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl”), and Viola Davis (“The Help”) play supporting characters with dignified gravitas; and Kier Gilchrist gives an amazing performance in the lead role of Craig.

And thus, this film will remain in my collection — streaming or not — and holds a special place in my heart due to the sober, true-to-life (if not somewhat optimistic) portrayal of the institutions some of us have found ourselves in, voluntary or not.

In later posts, inspired by memories recalled while watching “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”, I will share my own experience with “suicidal hold” commitment.