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.
“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.