Virgin Spring: Trigger Warning

Films about the Vikings, and about the Viking Age, typically are painful for scholars in the field of Viking history, medieval European archaeology, or saga scholarship to watch, because they are so full of clichés and half-truths and stereotypes, handed down as some sort of unquestioned fact. So when I was asked to select a series of films about the Vikings to show at my work, it presented genuine difficulties. To me the Viking Age is something reverent, and real, vibrant and important, a time of great change, when thoughtful people made difficult choices, but so many films about the Vikings make the Viking Age seem simple or thoughtless.

So anyhow, I settled on what is perhaps a bizarre array of films, from different time periods, different countries, and different genres. My criteria is that each one be a thought-provoking film, rather than meaningless repetition of clichés, or, barring that, that I could find a way to talk about them that added some complexity to them. As it has turned out, even the decent films about the Vikings are not particularly interesting to me without tying them into a subcontext of modern-day politics.

One exception to this is the film I will be showing next month, Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Spring. It is a stretch to consider this a Viking film, of course, since it is set in the early medieval period, but since Sweden was still transitioning to Christianity at that time, I think it fits within the rubric of Viking film. Plus it is nice to see just one film that has complexity and symbolism and good acting.

There is one problem, however. The film has a violent rape scene in it, so violent that everyone who sees it remembers primarily that alone about the film. So I will have to include a disclosure in the advertising for the film, something which is called a "trigger warning" amongst the socially-conscious. Trigger warnings are based on the idea that we can, as human beings, never fully process the traumas that we have experienced, and that watching something which reminds us of those traumas can in fact be deeply upsetting, almost as upsetting as the original attack.

I'm planning on inviting trained counselors from the women's center to be on hand during the film screening, and to announce that before the film begins, so that everyone understands that reacting strongly to this sort of violent scene is not unnatural.

I don't really know what else to do, and refuse to, for instance, simply not show the film. There is bravery in what Ingmar Bergman did, in making this film. There is also trauma and darkness and tears in it. And that makes it a great Viking film, for at least it comes close to the passion of the Viking Age.

I'm also reminded of the song, "Fortress around your Heart," by Sting. Because when someone has suffered a trauma, like a rape, there is nothing anyone can do to fill the chasm. The only thing we can do is try to build a bridge, and to, perhaps, set the battlements on fire.


Neil said…
Now I'm very curious. What other films did you select for this series?
Lissy said…
Hi Neil, the first film in the series was Stara Basn (the ancient tale: when the sun was god), a polish production from 2002 which was, I believe, originally aired as a tv mini series. It is based in a book from 1896, very interesting for the way Poles are dealing with their relationship with Russia and Western Europe in the medium of this film.

The next film will be Danish, after the Virgin spring. I wanted to do Signe og Hogni, but haven't been able to get ahold of it yet, so I may settle on a different Danish film, unfortunately. Then in the spring we move in to the classic Kirk Douglas Viking film from 1957.

And then the series ends with Hrafn Gunnlaugssons "In the Shadow of the Raven."

Thanks for asking! Nice to have some response.
Anonymous said…
Oh no! Not Hrafn Gunnlaugsson!

Can't you just show the Bergman movie a second time?
Jono said…
Thanks for the list! I was very young when I first saw the Kirk Douglas film. I watch it about once a decade and understand it differently each time.

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