Throwback Thursday: Tim Robbins Is a Viking with a Conscience in Erik the Viking

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—typically “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.

Can I recommend 1989’s Erik the Viking to you? I think it depends on whether you can go along with the conceit of the movie, and if you find the next couple of paragraphs intriguing.

1989 poster for the film

Erik the Viking poster—you’d go see this, right?

In the opening scene, a village is being raided by Vikings, and one of them comes across a woman. Not quite into raping her, he is pulled into a circular argument about the point of an economy and a lifestyle in which pillaging and plundering pay for the next expedition to pillage and plunder. Just when you think this could lead to the Viking, Erik, helping the woman escape from a fate worse than death, two more Vikings wander in and want to get their rape on (one of them being a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Jim Broadbent). Erik fights and kills both, but he unfortunately also accidentally kills the woman.

Our hero is confused by this whole situation and feels there has to be something more to life than killing, pillaging, plundering, and raping. He seeks out a local wise woman named Freya (Eartha Kitt), who she tells him that this is the age of Ragnarok; the gods are asleep and Fenrir the wolf has swallowed the sun. If Erik wants to end the age of Ragnarok, he must seek the Horn Resounding and blow it three times: first to get to Asgard, second to wake the gods, and third to return home. With that, the heroic quest is undertaken.

This is an absurdist film written and directed by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. It definitely has his flair for the unique point of view, set-up, and discussion. If you’re looking for a well-composed shot and a lot going on behind the camera, the cinematography is is not going to do it for you, but if you’re looking for a fun romp with a touch of social commentary, Erik the Viking could be right up your alley.

Erik the Viking wearing an invisibility cloak . . . still fully visible

Erik wearing the invisibility cloak.

Jones takes an interesting view on each character’s reality. To complement Erik (a young, muscular Tim Robbins) and his crisis of faith, there’s Harald, the Christian missionary (Freddie Jones) who goes on the journey with the Vikings. However he can’t see what they see—when the group reaches Asgard, Harald isn’t able to see the gods or all the dead that reside there. The same holds true for the character of King Arnulf (Jones in front of the camera), the leader of a sunny, idealized country, Hy-Brasil. There is a legend that if any blood is ever spilled, their land will sink beneath the ocean, but when this happens the King and his followers refuse to believe it and eventually drown in front of the eyes of the Vikings and Arnulf’s daughter, Aud (Imogen Stubbs). Aud also has a cloak of invisibility that she can use, but it only works on her father. Perception and reality are big themes in this film, whether you want to believe that we make our own realities or that we’re closed off to other people’s perceptions. It’s a little headier than your standard swords-and-sorcery flick.

The locals sink into the water in denial that their island is sinking

The citizens of Hy-Brasil oblivious to the island sinking.

There are a couple moments that could be fleshed out a little better. For one, with Erik taking on this quest to try to end Ragnarok and hopefully find the maiden he killed at the start of the film, there’s a little awkwardness when he seems to jump right into the bed and waiting arms of Aud. Imogen Stubbs is just so earnest and adorable as Aud that you almost go along with it. The ending also comes out of nowhere. John Cleese plays Halfdan the Black, a tribal leader who has been trailing Erik and his Vikings on their quest. Halfdan is afraid that if Ragnarok ends, his power will disappear. With a final confrontation taking place between Erik and Halfdan, which ends rather abruptly due to a deus ex machina, it almost reminded me of an old Monty Python recurring bit in which a skit had nowhere left to go, so they dropped a one-ton weight on the characters to move to the next skit. It seemed that Jones had nothing else to say, so cue the deus ex and then fade to black.

can't see me

Still can’t see Erik.

Even with these minor flaws, it’s still an interesting concept with some clever writing and a feeling that the film has something that it wants to say, even if it can’t quite figure that out. Erik the Viking is great for those who want a little something more from their fantasy, right up the alley of folks who like Monty Python, Neil Gaiman, Tim Robbins, or mythology.

This film can be found on a bare-bones DVD and Blu-ray release but no longer appears to be available on Netflix streaming. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

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