In 2016, the Norwegian MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter Emil Weber Meek attempted to make a name for himself by fighting Rousimar Palhares, who had been kicked out of the league for violence. The story seems like a work of fiction—a young outsider, determined to make a name for himself goes up against a world champion. The documentary TO VALHALLA (Even Evensen, 2017) charts the journey to the Meek’s big fight.
While the story plays out like a fairly common sport’s narrative, the film plays with national imagery and the sports genre in interesting ways. Meek seems endlessly fascinated with ancient Vikings and those warriors and explorers that made it to Valhalla through their heroic deeds. Valhalla—a wooden hall helmed by the god Odin himself, is a place in which chosen and tested warriors plan their next battle. The film definitely capitalizes on the Viking motif, filming Meeks at abandoned forts and castles and in candle-lit wooden structures. Moreover, the film is peppered with shots of the fantastic mountains and rivers that evoke a previous, ancient era of warriors and tribes.
Sometimes, however, he seems like more of the joyful kid he his, excited about breakfast cereal, or more vulnerable than the Vikings, such as the moments in which he’s trying to make weight. The films most interesting moments, in fact, is when it charts the machinations that have to be done to Meek’s body. To shed 10 kilos, he must not eat or drink and sweat out fluid through hot baths and steams. Afterward, when he’s allowed to eat, he looks physically and mentally smaller, spooning out yogurt in his hotel bed.
The Nordic styling can verge on somewhat overdone here. The film vacillates between being an investigation of the event and pro-MMA propaganda, and the propagandistic side can appear a bit over the top.
Over, even the film’s enthusiasm leaves room for a bit of ennui. Without giving away who wins at the end, I think it’s fair to say that the end is a bit anti-climatic. As Meek himself say “Its six years of training for 45 seconds,” and there is, of course, always the next fight to look forward to. Much like the Vikings will have to fight for Odin even in the afterlife, an MMA fighter only continues to be good if he (or she) is still in the game.