Directed by Tarsem Singh
Not since Julie Taymor's brilliant Titus way back in 1999
have I seen a film so overflowing with such rich, imaginative imagery.
Titus tied for my favorite film of 1999 (with Jim Jarmusch's
stunning Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai). It's going to
take a miracle of a film to top The
Fall in 2008.
(Editor's note: in IMDB The Fall
is listed as being a 2006 movie. I do not count it as such because
it was not released in theaters until 2008 (certainly not in this
area), so I had absolutely no opportunity to go back in time and
see it in 2006. I've already made a list of my favorite 2006 films,
and I cannot go back and change it. Therefore The
Fall is a 2008 movie).
The basic premise of the movie is that in a hospital in the 1930s,
Roy, a stuntman whose gilrfriend left him, has been seriously injured
in a stunt (possibly a suicide attempt) where he fell off a bridge.
He cannot feel his legs anymore. A little Indian (from India) girl,
Alexandria, is also at the hospital because she fell at the orchard
where her family (including her) works as laborors. They have a
kind of meet-cute and Roy begins telling Alexandria a story. We
then see the story through Alexandria's imagination. Much of the
wonderment of the movie comes from the fact that Alexandria imagines
things in an unexpected way. This being the 1930s, Roy tells a story
that has an Indian (from America) in it, complete with "squa"
and "papoose" and all that. Alexandria is an Indian Indian,
and so in her imagination the character is also an Indian Indian.
Another great thing is that Roy is obviously just making the story
up as he goes, and so sometimes the peculiar necessity of improv
makes him include surprising details, including a very strange choice
for one of the main characters of the story.
Anyone who has seen Tarsem Singh's previous film, The
Cell starring J-Lo, knows that Tarsem is capable of creating
fascinating visuals, and The Fall
ups that even further. The film is a riot of bold color choices,
bizarre costumes, unbelievable locales, and awe-inspiring compositions.
It is even more awe-inspiring when you realize just how few special
effects there are in the film; the entire thing was actually filmed
on locations that really exist, not sets or CGI backgrounds. As
such, the unreality of the story has an almost frightening reality
to it, like a dream that you wake up from but just for a moment
you're not sure whether it was a dream or not.
The attention to detail in the film is simply astonishing. There
is one part of the story where the characters go searching around
the entire globe, and there is a terribly quick montage of shots
of the characters in front of various easily-identifiable world
landmarks. With a few stock-footage exceptions, the cast and crew
actually went to these locations. They actually went to France and
got in costumes and stood in front of the Eiffel Tower for about
eight frames worth of film. Tarsem financed the film himself off
of the money he made from The Cell, and his uncompromised
vision is truly amazing.
A joy for me was the fact that not only were the story parts of
the film great, but the parts that took place in the hospital were
almost just as good. And that's due entirely to the great chemistry
between Roy (played by Lee Pace of "Pushing Daisies" fame)
and Alexandria, played by Catinca Untaru in what is probably the
best child performance I've ever seen, because at no point does
it ever look like she's acting. It looks like they just plopped
her down in the scene and filmed while she went off. Because English
is neither her nor her character's first language, there are a few
wonderful moments where she's simply trying to communicate with
Roy, and Lee Pace's bemused face is just perfect at these times.
It seems 100% believable, which somehow makes the fiction segments
seem that much more real and unreal at the same time.
Much like Tim Burton's fantastic Big Fish a few years
ago, The Fall is about the
power of storytelling, essentially how lying reveals hidden inner
truth. Roy's story is a lie on two levels: it's patently fiction
(none of that ever happened), and it's also only a device that Roy
uses to get Alexandria to do certain things for him in the real
world. But the story takes on a life of its own in Alexandria's
mind and becomes more than just the manipulations of a desparately
sad man. The Fall is also
a fascinating meditation on the role of the audience. After all,
even though Roy is telling the story, it is through Alexandria's
imagination that the story comes to life. And at the brilliant climax
of the film when Alexandria pleads to Roy to change the direction
the story is headed (trying not to be spoliery here), Roy tells
her he can have whatever he wants to have happen—it's his
story. Alexandria makes the simple statement of, "It's my story
It got me thinking later of audience ownership in stories, and
of the whole "Han Shot First" phenomenon. At what point
do stories stop being about the author and start being about the
audience? At what point do the creators of fiction stop having the
"right" to create their own fiction? What responsiblity
do authors have to their audiences and their expectations (why were
people so mad about the final episode of "The Sopranos"),
and what responsibility do they have to their own artistic vision?
Is the purpose of your art to satisfy your own inner need of expression
or to satisfy the audience's need for connection? I've always believed
that an artist should be true to his own vision, and that pandering
to any audience produces an inferior work. In the end, though, Roy
changes his story to suit his audience and therefore forms a truly
deep connection with Alexandria, one that in no way could have ever
been formed if he had told the story he had originally gone to tell.
By redeeming the end of his story he redeems himself. The
Fall says that we are the stories that we tell.
Tarsem Singh must be a beautiful person, then, because The
Fall is a beautiful film. Not just visually.
I tend to be pretty lenient with my reviews. It's rare that I
give a film under three stars. Much of that is because I only see
movies that I'm pretty sure I'm gonna like. But I'm also very stingy
with my four-star reviews. Just look at this year so far: The
Fall is the only movie I've given four stars to yet! And
this year had Iron Man and Indiana
Jones! Why did The Fall
get four stars but a movie as perfectly flawless as Iron Man
only get three-and-a-half?
When I'm watching a movie there's something that happens way down
in my gut that tells me when I'm watching a four-star movie. It's
the feeling that I'm watching something truly extraordinary that
somehow (I hate to use the term) transcends the limitations of genre
and medium. Iron Man was a magnificent comic book movie,
but in my heart that's all it was: a comic book movie.
The Fall is magnificence