Lost Conquest (2015)
I’m going to go out a limb here and say that most of us don’t know a thing about Viking culture. Our understanding of the Vikings, at least pre-History’s Vikings, consists of bearded guys with horned helmets. They like boats and violence, or something like that. Vikings are a Halloween costume or a football team not something of which we possess a rich historical context. But even with this limited knowledge, there is something terribly laughable about the thought that the state of Minnesota would play home to the first Viking explorers in the Americas. Nevertheless, there are a large group of people that believe that. Lost Conquest is about those people, or at least it is when it isn’t pointing at them and laughing.
Scholtz is able to craft a new image, not of village idiots rambling nonsensically, but people trying to figure out their place in the world.
That is probably the most difficult pill to swallow while taking in Lost Conquest. From afar, it seems nearly acceptable to mock and ridicule the apparent stupidity of individuals blind enough to think a sea-faring people somehow found their way to a largely landlocked section of America. However, upon further contemplation, which is want to happen as the film plays on, it begins to get uncomfortable. You realize that behind the perceived idiocy are actual people and the audience is made to feel like the worst of internet trolls, hiding behind a veil of anonymity only to belittle perfectly nice people. That gross sinking feeling you have rumbling in your gut, yeah, that’s a disappointment in yourself.
At first, it seems that director Mike Scholtz is so wrapped in laughter and cynicism to not even realize just how mean-spirited it is all beginning to sound. Without anything more, the film would crumble under its own delusions, but thankfully something along the way must have woken Scholtz up. As we get to know the people of Minnesota, rather than just the costumes that they wear or the lore they trip over trying to explain, we see that this isn’t really a documentary about Vikings, it’s about where we come from and just how and why that is important.
That is not to completely denigrate Scholtz’s own storytelling ability or infectious sense of humor. For the film’s first half it may begin to feel like a spoiled brat pointing and laughing at simpletons, but there is a sly charm that gets you to laugh along with it. The reenactments are executed with tongue about as firmly in cheek as possible, and the purposeful low quality feels almost Monty Python-esque. But these are only the distractions of a much lesser documentary. For there is something more profound buried amongst the faux furs and plastic helmets. These aren’t just characters. These are people. They have stories. They have personalities. And they are important.
The questions evolve and become much more pointed. The historically ludicrous stories and plaster runestones are pushed aside to find out more about the people of Minnesota today, rather than the alleged people of yesterday. The perceived disrespect dissipates and those being interviewed open up more. They see the limitations of the stories and look inward. Scholtz is able to craft a new image, not of village idiots rambling nonsensically, but people trying to figure out their place in the world. Rather than an often funny but terribly cynical documentary, it transforms into something much more personal, vulnerable, and truly touching.
For a film that features several bearded men wielding dull swords, it delves into a surprising amount of well-executed depth.
For so long I was left wondering, why did Scholtz even want to make this film? If he just wanted to mock others and get friends together to dress in silly costumes, he could have simply gone to a Renaissance Fair. No, he decided to make a film out of this idea, to go beyond his disdainful chuckles and show the people of Minnesota. Eventually Scholtz can’t hold it in any longer and the reason is shown to us in full view and it nearly explains its entire existence. In the revelation, which I will assuredly not spoil here, the film becomes perhaps its most tender. This wasn’t a film about finding the answer to some historical belief, but finding the answer to why some need to hold onto those beliefs. For a film that features several bearded men wielding dull swords, it delves into a surprising amount of well-executed depth.
When the film is at its most heartwarming and complex, it is reminiscent of Best Worst Movie. Just as that film found the good that can come from the most awful of movies, Lost Conquest is able to discover the good intentions behind the most misguided of beliefs. While it urges its subjects to get to know themselves better and to understand just why they hold onto these Viking tales, it is always sure of itself. The answers may get more thought provoking and the themes more nuanced, but director Mike Scholtz’s sense of humor remains a persistent guide post. At times, its own cynicism and quest for laughter flirts with the line of disrespect, but the eventuality of its conclusion saves it from seeming too mean. When Lost Conquest is able to push aside its archeological trappings and its urge to mock, it reveals a surprisingly touching and contemplative story of self-discovery and history that really has nothing to do with Vikings.
When Lost Conquest is able to push aside its archeological trappings and its urge to mock, it reveals a surprisingly touching and contemplative story of self-discovery and history that really has nothing to do with Vikings.