The Fall, 2006.
Directed by Tarsem Singh.
Starring Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Daniel Caltagirone, Marcus Weasley and Robin Smith.
In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story of five mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality blurs as the tale advances.
I was recommended The Fall by a friend who knew my love of Mr Nobody and Big Fish. I’m happy to say my friend has very good taste in films, and knows me well. The Fall is quietly comedic and very, very loudly poignant, if such a thing is possible. Director Tarsem Singh crafts an almost otherworldly story with characters that although are caricatures, are also a little too close to home to ignore.
The film follows Lee Pace (and his fantastic bone structure) as a stuntman named Roy, who managed to paralyse himself from the waist down while attempting to jump from a bridge onto the back of horse. While he sits in hospital in 1920s Los Angeles contemplating suicide, he meets Alexandria, a little Spanish girl with a broken arm.
Roy’s mental state is a constant source of speculation for the audience, and his attempts at suicide were, for me at least, a shock. Roy tells Alexandria a story about five warriors on an epic quest, and only continues the story after Alexandria has completed the tasks he sets her, such as stealing morphine from the dispensary. The story becomes interwoven into reality, particularly for Alexandria, as both characters eventually become integrated into Roy’s narrative themselves. The use of this mis en abyme, which ultimately becomes more real for the audience than Alexandria and Roy’s hospitalised reality, becomes an extended allegory for the journey of both characters, teeming with colour imagery and symbolism. Other people from the hospital and Roy and Alexandria’s lives become integrated too, until the success of their realities hinges on the conclusion of the story.
As Singh is weaving these intricate plot details in vast desert landscapes, the standout performance of the film is easily Alexandria, played by 9-year-old at the time Catinca Untaru. She outshines the already brilliant Lee Pace by a long shot, depicting the perfect balance of annoying child and hopeless girl desperately in need of a paternal figure in her life. She is both adorable and fascinating, particularly in her projection of misunderstanding Roy’s English. These moments are so believably real that I am forced to question whether Untaru can speak English. If not, her performance is all the more extraordinary.
Despite Untaru outshining Pace, credit is still due to his portrayal of a man at the end of his tether. The quiet decaying of Roy’s state of mind is depicted extraordinarily in Singh’s script and direction, as well as Pace’s acting. Every detail of this film could be overlooked if less than the fullest concentration is given to it, and this is true too for Pace’s performance. Singh invites his audience not to just enjoy this film, but to partake in it, and to reveal and understand the clues hidden within it. The ultimate breakdown of Roy’s mental health is both shocking and poignant, and Untaru’s Alexandria’s response to it is just as memorable.
Visually stunning, and conceptually ambitious, The Fall is not for light watching. It encourages its audience to invest in it, and its unusual cinematography and use of dual narratives proves that Tarsem Singh thought about every tiny detail of this film for a very long time before he made it. His hard work has paid off.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★