If ever there was a film whose narrative seemingly exists only to showcase an orgy of fantastical imagery, The Fall may very well be it. Director Tarsem (The Cell) spent the course of four years shooting in 28 countries and his own money to create The Fall yet the extreme self-indulgence highlights the qualities of “movie magic” from the inception of the industry. Despite stagnant pacing and a first hour that leaves a lot to be desired, The Fall hits a stride in the final act (although some one-pitch performances in an important, yet emotionally overwrought scene threatens to tear it apart) which concludes with a stirring montage that works not only to justify the film’s extreme excesses but also defines why people continue to fall in love with the movies.
Following the story of a paralyzed silent movie stunt man, Roy (Lee Pace), and his relationship with a 4-year-old girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who has broken her arm, the bulk of The Fall is the ongoing fantastical story that Roy tells to Alexandria. Though the storyteller is Roy, the images come from the imagination of Alexandria where some clever storytelling anachronisms help bring alive the world that Roy and Alexandria create. Roy’s storytelling has other motives that Alexandria fails to see the danger in, as she is continually sheltered by her childlike fantasies. Turning into an over the top adventure story, full of labyrinths, a Blue City, and huge landscapes, Roy and Alexandria may be telling a rather normal adventure story, but Alexandria’s imagination, captured through the lens of cinematographer Colin Watkinson, is what makes the film so alive in its flatest sections. Of course, the fantasies begin falling apart and the story becomes much less fun when reality breaks through the barrier of fiction.
Ripe for comparisons with the more fully realized Pan’s Labyrinth, The Fall is very much invested in childlike representations of harsher realities that fail to be understood. Roy and, eventually, Alexandria attempt to create an artifice to hide their faults within, and use this fantasy to keep themselves alive in dire situations. Alexandria clings to Roy and his story, falling into his manipulative trap. Roy, struggling with the departure of his girlfriend, has nowhere to go but down. Even though he is in a hospital, it is Alexandria who is most interested in pulling him up, albeit through trusting in every word he says.
The barrier between fact and fiction, arguably beginning with the most accomplished works of Werner Herzog, seems to be becoming a cliche in many films today, yet the playful inventions used to incorporate it within The Fall keep it from a negative categorization. Even at its most cheesy and flat out boring sections, The Fall keeps its stamina by relying heavily on its oftentimes incredible imagery, none of which is computer generated. That alone makes The Fall a remarkable accomplishment and, despite its many faults, worth seeing in the largest cinema possible. Its insistence on using a more “pure” form of cinema, avoiding the pitfalls of computers, makes its final sequence even more spectacular and surprisingly touching. The Fall is far from a silent film, but its intentions and reliance on images are markedly similar and will surely make any “film geek” nerd out in seeing the simple beauty in the final montage.
Early on in The Fall, it is easy to give up on it for its seeming lack of direction, paper-thin mentality, and stale acting from its leading male. In all honesty, I had given up on the film but continued to watch and found myself, very slowly, coming to terms with its methods and then melting over its final sequence. Jean Luc Godard said, “There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.” The ideas in The Fall take a long while to come into focus; maybe too long for many viewers. However, when the ideas and images finally mesh, The Fall is a bit of mixed magic.
by James Hansen