During my childhood, I saw few movies. With eight of us children, my parents had other priorities for their money. Of the few I saw, naturally most of them were considered safe for children. Yet, sometime in the late 1960s I remember seeing Dr. Zhivago in a theater. It was probably a re-release, as it was first released in 1965. It was my first grownup movie seen in a real theater in glorious Technicolor. I was mesmerized by the film. I had no idea films could be so well done.
In the forty or so years that have passed, I have seen hundreds of movies. Most were fair to middling movies. Some like Children of Men had me quaking in my seat with tears streaming down my face. Rarely since Dr. Zhivago though have I seen a movie and felt mesmerized by it. I can now add a new film to this slim category: The Fall.
What does The Fall have that so many other movies lack? Two things: breathtaking cinematography and superb directing. If it has been a while since you sat in a theater and felt the presence of the camera, you need to see The Fall. With Stanley Kubrick gone to meet his maker, there are fewer directors out there willing to use the camera to its fullest. For director Tarsem Singh the camera is a lens in more than the physical sense, but also in a metaphorical sense. It reveals, principally by beginning with a close shot and then slowly pulling back to a wider shot. The camera exists not to show the ordinary, but to reveal the extraordinary.
The story centers on a Los Angeles hospital in 1920, a six-year-old girl with a broken arm and shoulder and a sad suicidal Hollywood stuntman that she encounters in the hospital ward. Alexandria injured herself in an orange grove where she helped her immigrant family pick oranges. She looks a bit grotesque in her arm and shoulder cast, which unnaturally pulls her upper arm up to shoulder height. Not since Haley Joel Osment played Cole in The Sixth Sense have we had such an exceptional child actor on camera. Catinca Untaru, the child actress who plays Alexandria is mesmerizing too. She too is a lens. The story created by the suicidal paraplegic Roy Walker (Lee Pace) to entertain her is realized in her eyes and in her head. For Alexandria, Roy is a hospital friend. To Roy, Alexandria is an unwitting accomplice for his own suicide.
This movie frequently cuts between the hospital and the story that Roy slowly reveals to Alexandria. The hospital set was actually in India, which is probably why it feels so completely authentic. Tarsem Singh’s eye for detail is perfectly realized in the hospital. Roy’s story, as envisioned through Alexandria’s eyes is a magical, Technicolor wonder. The tale follows a group of men determined to kill the evil Governor Odious. One of them just happens to be the famous British naturalist Charles Darwin. Marooned on an island by the governor it looks like they are likely to starve to death. Yet, together they embark on their impossible quest. As Roy’s mental illness increases, the tale becomes increasingly bizarre and the happy ending less problematic.
Be prepared to be stunned by imagery literally filmed across the globe. Part of Singh’s magic is how he weaves this movie together into a seamless whole, although it is shot over four years and on most of the earth’s continents. Alexandria and Roy’s imagined world is both frightening and glorious. Events in the hospital begin to effect events in Roy’s tale, and visa versa.
This movie is rated R and for good reason, for Roy’s suicidal behavior and mental illness is very adult stuff indeed. There is also some violence not for the faint of heart. Much of Roy’s tragic journey into his own interior darkness is excruciatingly hard to endure, particularly as it is seen through Alexandria’s innocent and hopeful eyes. Expect to be charmed, appalled, mesmerized, at times bewitched and full of pathos throughout this remarkable movie.
It is a shame this movie was largely ignored because it should not have been. If you enjoy landmark movies, you simply must add The Fall to your list of movies. I bet it is one of theses movies which after you watch it, like me, you will be anxious to tell your friends about it, and to own it on DVD so you can enjoy it many more times. Reviewers on imdb.com gave it a remarkable 8.0 rating. If you are not familiar with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, you will be by the time the movie ends, because its music frames the movie.
If you can handle a movie with this emotional intensity, it is a must see. 3.6 on my 4-point scale.