A Review of The Fall by Claudine Elizabeth Miller
Directed by Tarsem (Singh)
Bandits! Smart Monkey! Oh My!
But, being as how this review is supposed to be longer than 10 words, here are my reasons why you should see Tarsem’s The Fall:
Reason #1: Sure, Tarsem (he has recently dropped his surname, Singh, for his filmmaking credits) was the director of the icky and poorly cast The Cell, but he does have a way with fantastical visual imagery. From the first shot to the last, The Fall captures you with such epic, poetic, vibrant images that perfectly brings to life a story that is running through the mind of a young child. I must admit, I was quite skeptical about seeing this film. After all, the reviewers were already calling it a “vanity piece”, “ostentatious”, and “flat”. But with the opening sequence (a black and white hauntingly beautiful shot involving a train bridge, an old steam locomotive, a Native American, and a horse hanging from a rope) I was sucked in.
More images abound, such as a man stepping out of a burning tree, arrows piercing a man’s back and weighing him down so that when he leans back, he is lying on a bed of arrows… vast deserts where the sand is a blazing orange and the sky is a saturated sapphire blue, and a lonely hospital just outside of Los Angeles in 1915 that is full of shadows and green paint. These images are quite lush, akin to Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Yimou Zhang’s Hero, and show Tarsem’s love for perfectly framed imagery. In other words, it’s a beautiful film.
Reason #2: When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things was hanging out with my dad and listening to the endless stories that he would tell. He had a way of taking something and making it sound so real and the images of his characters would stay with me for days. Since then, I’ve been a fan of children stories told by adults and seen through the eyes of a child. The Fall is just that. It’s a story within a story, told by Roy (Lee Pace) and imagined by Alexandria (Cantica Untaru). Roy is a paralyzed silent film stuntman with a broken back and a broken heart after his girlfriend left him for another man. Alexandria is a little girl with a broken arm who likes to wander the hospital. On one of her wanders, she meets Roy, who immediately befriends her. From there, he begins to tell her an epic story of bandits, heroes, villains, Darwin’s smart monkey, and a true love. He’s telling the story but it’s Alexandria who is giving us the images through her vivid imagination.
Things take a different twist when Alexandria brings Roy a communion wafer she stole from the chapel (“Alexandria, are you trying to save my soul?”). Depressed over his circumstances, Roy convinces Alexandria to bring him Morphine pills from the dispensary to end his life. It’s from here that the story of heroes and hope begins to twist into a dark tale of failure and death and poor Alexandria doesn’t understand why Roy is doing this. The story is told so well that you find yourself pleading alongside the young girl when she asks Roy why he is “making everyone die” and your heart sinks with Alexandria when he says “Because everyone dies.”
Reason #3: If you’re a sucker for a story about hope, then you’ll love this film. I know, I just gave away that someone dies in this movie, but, it’s okay. Hope is found in the midst of sorrow and it gives strength to continue on. The film’s tagline is “A Little Blessing in Disguise” and at first you think the quote is referring to Alexandria. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. But I will say this, there is quick shot of the girl standing in a hallway and a wooden cross is hanging right above her little head. I’m not saying that she is the hope in the film, but what I am saying is that perhaps her innocence – her affirming belief in Roy – brings the despairing man hope when it seems that everyone and everything else has let him down, that there is nothing to believe in anymore. The visual connection to the cross and little girl even reminded me of something Jesus taught: “Calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”
Just as true hope can be found in Jesus when everything and everyone else around us has let us down and proven fleeting in this life, Roy finds hope in this story through the faith of a small child. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles, they will walk and not be weary” (Isaiah 40: 31). Just saying. If you’re looking for a story of hope, check this out.
There you have it. My reasons why you should at least give this film a try, despite the wealth of criticism: while it CAN be a bit flat in a couple of places and it’s not about high action drama, it’s an easy, gorgeous and sweet film that I think you just might like. Or love.
Oh, and the bandits and the smart monkey are pretty cool, too.
About Claudine Miller – Cinemagogue Managing Editor & Reviewer
If this were a name tag, it would read: “Hello, my name is Claudine. Paul is my hubby, AT-AT my cat. I proofread everything around me, I am an epic nerd, and I love documentaries and French New Wave. Bottle Rocket is one of the best movies of all times. The Lord of the Rings triology is perfect to watch if you’re sick on the couch. The Neverending Story really ought to get more play time as should anything by Godard. Herzog is wonderful as is Von Trier. Wes Anderson is genius and I get giddy when I find a new Focus Films movie. Oh, and I love popsicles.”