The Fall (2006)

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in Just My Imagination | 0 comments


Disclaimer: A very brutal movie that in many ways should only be enjoyed by adults, but mature preteens should be able to handle it.

It should come as no surprise that studios and producers shunned this project from writer-director Tarsem Singh (The Cell and Immortals) for something like 14 years. I can hardly image him pitching the idea. “It’s a horrifying fantasy based on the 1981 Bulgarian film Yo Ho Ho, involves shooting in more than 20 countries, much of the dialogue is improvised by a 5-year-old girl, and involves no big-name stars.” It should likewise come as no surprise, then, that Tarsem financed much of the film himself, retained creative control and vision, and paid his no-name actors the same as the crew members.

The result led to very mixed Fall1reviews, with critics like Nathan Lee at The New York Times bashing it and The AV Club’s Tasha Robinson hailing it as the best of the year. But after viewing this film I don’t feel at all uncomfortable going on a limb and calling Tarsem nothing short of a visionary, and an auteur worth further study and additional chances to wow us. And since The Fall is presented (in credits only) by indie talents David Fincher and Spike Jonze, you shouldn’t have to merely take my word for it. And though it has an R rating for violence and the like, this is a MUST see for adults and teens.

We follow Alexandria, a young immigrant with a broken arm stuck in a hospital around the 1900s, wandering the hallways, peeking in doors, looking for something to latch on to. Her eye and affection ultimately land on Roy, a Hollywood stuntman who is bedridden and suicidal after losing his girlfriend and the use of his legs. Their relationship begins with Roy unraveling an epic story about five multi-cultural heroes: an ex-slave, an Indian, an Italian explosives expert, a caricature of Charles Darwin with sidekick monkey, and a masked bandit. Together they vow revenge against an evil ruler and oppressor. As Alexandria (and we) get sucked into the story, wanting to hear more, Roy uses it to trick her into stealing meds so he can commit suicide.

It’s clear that Tarsem understands the child perspective. Like all children, Alexandria absorbs her surroundings and takes elements of her everyday life and incorporates them into her story. Like a dream. And we experience everything through her, making us indeed feel like children again. And Tarsem isn’t above hitting us in the soft spot, as the chubby, working class minority girl adorably stumbles through the English language and constantly smirks to expose her teeth, the oral equivalent of bowling’s 7-10 split.

One of my favorite aspects of Fall3the film is that, over the course of it, Alexandria unknowingly experiences the various processes of filmmaking. First with upside down shadows through the keyhole, then with a narrated story imagined in images, and then learning the tricks and stunts Roy does for a living, all before seeing her first film at the very end. The only moment better happens as a result of the titular fall, a dream sequence that quickly flashes images including creepy stop-motion animation rivaling the work of Jan Svankmajer. It’s merely one of many jaw-dropping images in the film.

I first spotted Tarsem’s unique eye for cinematic space in The Cell, a movie widely considered all style and no substance but with incredible sets, costumes, art direction, and a creepy turn by Vincent D’Onofrio. But it is Tarsem’s conception of the dream world that is the canvas for these elements to thrive, and he returns to a similarly excellent space here that is part music video, part Cirque du Soleil, and part Salvador Dali. Tarsem’s insistence that no special effects are exhibited here is almost unbelievable (especially nowadays), but apparently cost and time were of no consequence to his vision.

A vision that, as I previously mentioned, not everyone appreciated. Ebert called it, “mad folly, an extravagant visual orgy, a free-fall from reality into uncharted realms.” Variety called it, “an absurdly elaborate package oblivious to the interests of any audience beyond its own wildly indulged creator.” The AV Club called it “insane genius” with a “structure so delicate, ideas so ambitious, and imagery so hellishly flamboyant that it’s easy to fall into Tarsem’s over-the-top vision. … It’s the most glorious, wonderful mess put onscreen since Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.”

It’s ironic (but typical) that a film titled The Fall would see theatrical release in 2006 and drop completely off the radar. The best movie that year was Pan’s Labyrinth, a film that until recently would have been completely off the American radar, yet this four-year labor of love and epic odyssey not unlike a Gilliam picture would take its place.

I love this film. I really do. And given a few more years and viewings, I’d expect it to occupy a place near the top of my personal favorites. Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste. Or how it hit me when I first saw it. I can’t say. But what I will say is it deserves a chance to do the same for you.

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