Vikings in Cinema: a Case Study of How to Train Your Dragon
By Dawid Kobiałka
International Journal of Žižek Studies, Vol 7, No 4 (2013)
Abstract: Archaeologists have been interested in Hollywood films for a few decades. What basically interested them was the theme of how cinema misperceives the practice of archaeology and its object of study (the past). In this paper I focus on How to Train Your Dragon (2010), 3-D animated film about Vikings for children. A film is always already a meta-film. Every film is, to use Hegelian distinction, a story in itself, presents more or less coherent story. At the same time, a film is for itself, a meta-film, a meta-story which reflects on and encapsulates a more general context part of which is a particular film. In this paper both levels are scrutinised with regard to How to Train Your Dragon. My attention is paid especially to the ideological aspects of the film which presents a story about some vision of the past. It is an attempt of showing how archaeology, or more generally, the past is used to mask and stage at the same time elements of contemporary politics.
If there is any lesson to be learnt from Slavoj Žižek, it is that cinema is the “royal road” to the unconscious, so to speak; a place where social fantasies and dreams are staged. Although archaeology is usually perceived as dealing only with the distant past as well as being a way of unearthing prehistoric artefacts through excavations, there are close – and why not – dialectical relations between cinema and archaeology. Two of the most famous archaeologists in the world are Indiana Jones and Lara Croft; both of whom are products of Hollywood. This is one of the ways in which cinema shapes archaeology and how it is perceived by society. This process might likewise work in reverse: archaeology may offer a theoretical framework for understanding films, especially those which are about the distant past.
Archaeologists have invariably been interested in how Hollywood perceives, or maybe more accurately, misperceives the practice of archaeology. A far rarer perspective has been to use films with no clear references to archaeology and the past to discuss both archaeology itself and archaeological finds. Here two exceptions worth mentioning are Michael Shanks’ interpretations of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1991) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) as well as a fascinating analysis of Wall-E (2008) by Ben Marwick. This paper combines archaeological attention to the past (the Vikings and their material culture, beliefs and so on and a Žižekian fascination with Hollywood films to examine How to Train Your Dragon (2010), a 3-D animated film about Vikings for children.