The Fall (2006): United States/India/South Africa – directed by Tarsem Singh
Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violence and some mature themes, and a little language
The Fall is one of the most gorgeous movies I’ve ever seen, crafted over the course of several years, spanning many countries and a multitude of locations. It is like a painting, in a way, reveling in the artist’s imagination. There is a story, too, a sweet and sad tale of a couple of people suffering from maladies both physical and emotional.
Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is a young girl, perhaps six or eight, who has been injured in a fall. She picks oranges in a grove near Los Angeles, right about 1920. Her arm may be broken, but not her spirit. She meets a young man, Roy (Lee Pace, before he became the face of “Pushing Daisies”), who is an actor in the fledgling motion picture industry. He has been injured in a fall involving a horse and a train and no longer has the ability to move his legs. To make matters worse his heart has also been broken by a frightened girlfriend.
Alexandria and Roy’s relationship begins with a story. Roy wants someone to talk to, someone innocent and unassuming, and Alexandria is the perfect candidate. She is naive and young, not quite understanding all the suffering that is occurring in the hospital but able to know that something is wrong. When Roy asks her to procure him pills she does so innocently, out of kindness.
Roy rewards her with a fantastical tale of a gang of bandits who have sworn vengeance on the evil Governor Odious, a terrible ruler who has wronged them all. This story takes place in a variety of wonderful landscapes and locales and is filled with stunning architecture. The bandits, each of them with a unique back-story and ethnic heritage, join together to hunt down Odious.
The fairy tale is told in chunks as Alexandria comes to visit Roy at various stages of his convalescence. The construction is very similar to The Princess Bride, though Alexandria has a broader-minded view of kissing: “Make them kiss” she says to Roy as the princess and the bandit leader draw closer together. But this isn’t a romance, this is a story of a father and daughter, or at least the reflection of a father and daughter. Through the fantasy story Roy helps ease Alexandria’s suffering, though he has ulterior motives for keeping her close. Eventually the two of them become saviors for each other by using their collective imagination.
The focus of The Fall is on the visuals, and they are some of the most impressive ever captured on film. The story and themes are important, and engaged me emotionally, but the visuals literally made me gasp and hold my breath on occasion. The sweeping vistas are remarkable, as are the scale of the action. Some of the absurdist settings and religious imagery are reminiscent of Alexandro Jodorowsky’s classics like El Topo and The Holy Mountain, with the scale of David Lean’s epics. The colors are rich and vivid, the settings astonishing and gorgeous, and the costume design and aesthetic simply fantastical. The camera moves slowly and isn’t afraid to linger, giving the audience a chance to fully appreciate the beauty captured on celluloid. I was most reminded of the films of Peter Greenaway, especially The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, in which color and music combines to evoke a powerful mood. The way Greenaway, and Tarsem, utilize the various arts to transcend film are remarkable and craft an unforgettable experience.
The production itself must be quite a story. It seems that director Tarsem Singh funded it primarily on his own, shooting in 18 or so countries. But he doesn’t just go see some mountains in Chile, he visits and uses palaces in India, an old hospital in South Africa, and Hadrian’s Villa in Italy. He makes them natural to the story, not mere backdrops for the action.
All of the eye candy in the world is worthless without an emotional base involving human characters. The fairy tale Roy weaves for Alexandria would be fun, but just that: a fairy tale, without being grounded solidly in Alexandria and Roy’s real troubles. There is suffering all around them, and Roy himself is possibly the worst off in the entire hospital. But he finds redemption and salvation in the eyes and imagination of an innocent child. And, if that isn’t enough, a final sequence similar to the last section of Cinema Paradiso was almost enough to bring tears to my eyes. There are too many wonderful elements in The Fall to dismiss it as mere eye candy. It is a film I won’t soon forget and hope to revisit occasionally.