“A man might be thought wealthy if someone were to draw the story of his deeds, that he might be remembered.”
It is 922 A.D. There is a brooding evil that hovers over the north country and comes with the black mist. Death is all it leaves behind. The Northmen are summoned to rid the land of the creatures known as the Wendol, “eaters of the dead”. Among them rides the 13th warrior, a young Arab on a small white horse, dwarfed by the towering Norsemen. The black stone of a seer has cast his destiny with theirs.
Ahmed, (Antonio Banderas) young Mohamedan poet, carefree, irresponsible, and unused to hardship, is exiled from his country. Fascinated by the Northmen who sail their highprowed ships into his life, he is swept up in the fate that awaits them. Ahmed begins his journey with the Northmen as an outsider, an observer whom they ridicule, until his quick eyes, ears and mind pick up on their language. Unknown by Ahmed, however, he is observed in turn by Buliwyf, (Vladimir Kulich) their king, whose barbaric soul yearns for something more, as in the following dialog: Buliwyf — “You can draw sounds?” Ahmed — “And I can speak them back.”
The absolute beauty of Vladimir Kulich in his Viking persona is breathtaking. The casting director could conceivably have fetched him directly from the cover of a Thor comic book. He embodies everything barbaric, yet noble; a man steeped in ignorance and superstition, but who stands on the cusp of change; a landless chieftain king, tall and proud.
The Vikings are everything our fertile imaginations could possibly conjure them to be as they sail on-screen from the mists of legend — huge, fair-haired, fearless, ruthless men — (a veritable host of Scandinavian and Canadian actors), yet embodied with their own fierce code of honor, and an equally fierce warrior faith.
The 13th Warrior is a feast for the senses. Sounds are sharply defined: the thunder of hooves, the clash and the clang of metal, the raw sounds of battle and the unearthly screams of dying horses. The score surges about this cacophony, blending into a symphony that sings of epic heroism and courage. The sound blends with fire and rain and mist and the cold, brooding, achingly beautiful, snow-cloaked mountains. Forests are primeval, misty, heavily silent but for the passing of the Vikings.
The dialog is striking, as in the moments before they meet the creatures. A Northman tries to bolster the courage of the untried, trembling Arab, who is wielding a borrowed sword too big for him. The warrior is telling him there is no turning back, no matter how afraid he is.
Northman — “Your fate is fixed. Fear profits a man nothing. Come form a circle with our backs to each other.”
Ahmed — ” I am not a warrior.”
Northman — “You soon will be.”
When the makeshift barricade is breached, the warriors face an oncoming horde on towering horses. As the defenders fall back and the Northmen gather to repel, Buliwyf flings a thick pike at Ahmed. Staring at it in bafflement he asks, “What do I do with this?” Jamming his pike into an angled defensive position the king bellows, “Put your foot on it, and STAND.”
Before the final battle, the pauper king looks at Ahmed and says: “A man might be thought wealthy if someone were to draw the story of his deeds, that he might be remembered.” Ahmed, no longer just a boy poet, replies: “Such a man might be thought wealthy indeed.”
As the defenders prepare for the final onslaught, Ahmed kneels in the pouring rain and prays
“For all that we ought to have thought, and thought not; for all that we ought to have said, and said not; for all that we ought to have done, and done not, I pray thee God for forgiveness.”
Yet, as the remnant of the Viking warriors gather for the final confrontation, Ahmed joins the pagans in their prayer: Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters and my brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever.
The chant is chilling in its simple acceptance of whatever must be faced. And as the warrior/poet Ahmed pens the deeds of his warrior brothers, he bids them farewell with this blessing:
“Goodbye, Northmen. Across seas of monsters and forests of demons we traveled. . . May his blessing be upon pagan men who loved other gods, who shared their food, who shed their blood, that his servant, Ahmed Ibn Fahlan, might become a man, and a useful servant of God.”
WARNING: This is NOT Disney. This is NOT Days of Our Lives. These are Vikings, not GQ wannabes. Some scenes are graphic and gruesome. These are warriors fighting a gruesome foe.