“The Fall”  – A Tribute to the Power of Stories
Arun Kumar of Passion For Movies whose reviews have an identity of their own and shows his undulated love for movies. I thank him for finding time and agreeing to do a guest post in Magic Moments. It's a huge privilege. So here's a guest post by him on one of his favorite movies.
“The Fall”  – A Tribute to the Power of Stories
Sometimes, you make an emotional bond with a film and dissect or interpret its vision in different ways, while a fellow movie-lover would pan it by using the most loathful words. Tarsem Singh’s visually exuberant movie, “The Fall” (2006) falls into that category. Many critics deemed it as a self-indulgent, vanity project; or as a preposterously intolerable, childish story. Does Tarsem have abundant directorial ego that drove the likes of Jodorowsky, Lynch or Gilliam, who all persistently came up with outlandishly inventive visuals? I would say yes. As a movie-lover, this so-called ‘directorial ego’ has always fascinated me (provided they are more inventive to conceal its inconsistencies). “The Fall” could be called as a pretty movie to look at. But, this isn’t a visual extravaganza that has a big void for an emotional core. In fact, our bond with this movie would solely be based on how we perceive the emotional traits & immersed pretexts.
“The Fall” is about two people, who have fallen. Not just fallen physically, but they also have descended emotionally. It is said that for adults, it would take quite some time for broken bones to set in, than for children. The movie shows the statement is not just true for physical injuries, but also for emotional afflictions. The year is 1915 and Alexandria (Catinca Unaru), a five year old Romanian girl, has witnessed her share of broken things in life: she has a broken arm; her familial life is broken as ‘angry people’ have burned down her house, killing the father; and she could only talk in ‘broken’ English. But, then her fantastical, vivid imaginations know no boundary. Death & misery stays around her in the children ward of a Los Angeles hospital, but she always looks out of her window at the sun-drenched landscape, which is diffused with warm human beings. She loves her surrogate mother Nurse Evelyn (Justine Waddell), for whom she has written a message in English and throws at her through the window.
But, the wind takes it to the lap of a bedridden man (an apparent paraplegic) named Roy Walker (Lee Pace). Through ‘broken’ conversations, we learn that Roy was a Hollywood stuntman, who has seriously injured himself, while leaping off a railroad bridge onto a horse. However, the physical damage is nothing in front of his inner turmoil. We gradually learn about the ailments of Roy’s feelings, but for now he starts telling Alexandria stories. At first, just to pass time; later to make the child help him indirectly to commit suicide. Roy concocts an epic: a fantasy, where a masked bandit, an escaped African slave (Marcus Wesley), a explosion expert (Robin Smith), a Indian sword fighter (Jeetu Verma), a powerful mystic (Julian Bleach), and Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), accompanied with his monkey Wallace comes together to wreak vengeance upon their common enemy Governor Odious. The film’s intensity increases as the fantastical story’s events forges an invisible connection with the emotional ups and downs of the characters.
Director Tasrem, who has worked many years in the advertising & music video fields, has this inherent verve to design vivid and startling images. Unlike his debut feature “The Cell” (2000), this film’s visuals are not very obtuse. The imagery seems like an amalgamation of simple, yet spellbinding visuals. For example, take the image of a swimming elephant or the image of parched, burning tree in the middle of a desert or the emergence of charred mystic from the tree’s stem. Each of the visuals, if seen from a distanced perspective, are simple, but the manner with which Tasrem mixes them up creates a level of astounding complexity that could only be done in cinema (I liked the images of “The Cell” too, but there Tasrem was heavy on the complexity factor of each imagery). Unlike the visually extravagant Hollywood films “The Fall”, at no point makes you feel nauseous about the onslaught of fine-tuned images.
The fantastical story within the primary narrative has stilted acting, wavering plot design and ridiculous dialogue deliveries, which may make viewers to think of it as a clumsily made feature. But, two things are vital to understand before calling it ‘clumsy’: one is that the story comes from a mainstream silent-era stuntman – the time when films or ‘flickers’ were seen as ludicrous entertainment pieces; and the characters in the story and their stilted actions comes from the imagination of a five-year old. You can easily observe how Alexandria brings her own childhood imaginations into the character sketches or traits. Roy includes a character of ‘Indian’ in his story and uses words like ‘squaw’ & ‘wigwam’, which clearly shows that he is talking about a native-American, but Alexandria thinks of a man from the Indian-subcontinent, since he is the ‘Indian’ she knows (he picks oranges at orchards, where Alexandria’s family work). And, when Roy says the ‘masked-bandit’ looks like her dead father, the girl’s imagination works wonders and sees Roy himself as the ‘father figure’. There are few glimpses which show how children reenacts things they see in life. For example, Alexandria pinches a dead-body’s toe and cries "get up or they all chop you up”, exactly repeating the words of a bereaved mother, seen before in the mortuary. The scene could also be seen a reference to how we audiences re-enacts what we see on-screen.
“The Fall” is heavily inspired by Bulgarian drama “Yo ho ho” (1981). I haven’t seen that film, but Dan Gilroy & Nico Soultanakis’ script really forged connections on an emotional level. The script beautifully explores the cyclical link that is prevalent between a story teller and a listener. The reason for Roy setting his fantasy story in India or using elephants or bringing in a character-like nurse Evelyn is to make Alexandria easily connect with it. And so, the story & its characters not only belong to the teller, but also the listener (even all the story-tellers possess a doppelganger called ‘listener’). Towards the end, Alexandria cries “Why are you killing everyone?” because Roy hasn’t provided emotional catharsis, the girl expects from the story. That scene particular soulfully examines a viewer’s or listener’s obsession to participate in the designer’s vision. I mean, we all might have got annoyed after watching a movie, when the director takes a turn by degrading or killing a character we had very much connected with. Stories have these ever-growing roots that distort and crystallize our thoughts. Sometimes we prefer this ‘root’ to possess the life-affirming qualities, while other times a dark quality. It’s all based on our vision of the world or from the joys & hurts we have encountered in this world.
The story Roy wants to say towards the end is drenched with melancholy, because he has nothing in this world to cling to (both physically & emotionally). He wants to die, while the imaginative girl believes in life and wants to transcend all the bad things happened to her (like her displacement or death of father). So, in another way, it is all about the fight between life and death. Yeah, ‘death’ would eventually win all of us, but the feeling of love we experience gives ‘life’ all its worth. Alexandria makes Roy to adhere to life through the unbridled love she showcases. Love, in fact, transcends the fantastical story as well as the one happens in the hospital. Apart from being a movie-viewer, if you had ever tried to tell a story, you can easily understand the sumptuous pretext that lies in the ending.
And, thanks to the amazing performance of the kid Catinca Untaru and actor Lee Pace, that particular finishing scene tears me up emotionally too (may be not very subtle on the emotional front). Untaru performance is so natural and lacks the heightened cuteness of a Hollywood kid actor. Director Tarsem has perfectly used the girl’s limited skill in speaking English to create a sense of dialogue delivery that is so instinctive. When all said and done, I think there would still be many opulent images or contemplative themes that deserve more attention or dissection and also splendid trivia to allow us understand the film’s making. In the end, director Tarsem achieved what he set out to do: to convey a life-affirming story with themes and images that boundlessly grows on an attentive spectator.
“The Fall” (117 minutes) is a deeply moving story of redemption and love. It is the kind of work that satiates one’s mind as well as stirs the soul.