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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Fall’

This fantasy, which weaves the lives of a storyteller and a child, is a dark tale with troubling implications.

1 Star — Disturbing

The fantasy tale written and directed by Tarsem Singh titled The Fall is creative, ingenious and disturbing. It has similarities to Rob Reiner’s Princess Bride in that it weaves the real-life relationship of a storyteller and child as they share a fictional adventure, but instead of being a lighthearted tale with identifiable characters, Singh tells a dark tale with troubling implications of the storyteller’s intentions toward his young listener. The Fall also has some similarities with such fictional tall tales as Tim Burton’s Big Fish and Tim McCanlies’ Secondhand Lions, but the adventure is more a nightmare than a fantasy, with a pervasive depressive mood.

The storyteller is an injured stuntman of the silent movies named Roy Walker (Lee Pace). Having tried an impossible stunt to prove his love, Roy has no feeling in his legs and is hospitalized. In the same Los Angeles hospital is a young 5-year-old immigrant named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru).

When Alexandria happens upon Walker one sunny day, they strike up a friendship. Using his creative gifts to weave a fantasy story to entertain Alexandria, we soon realize that his intentions are not harmless: He wants to use her innocence, mobility and access to get him the morphine pills he needs to end his pain and his life.

This dark manipulation pervades the tale that Walker creates. Taking his own angst over his unrequited love and paralysis, and accepting the sorrows of Alexandria’s life as he discovers that her father was killed during a raid upon their farm, Walker uses the nurse and orderly, the ice-delivery man and orange-picker, as well as himself and Alexandria to tell his tale. This dual depiction weaving fact with fantasy allows the tale to drift in and out of their lives in disquieting ways.

This is seen particularly in the plot of his fairytale: Everyone hates Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone), who in real life is the boyfriend of Walker’s desired love. For various reasons, the slave Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), the naturalist Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), the mystic (Julian Bleach), the bandit (Lee Pace) and the Indian (Jeetu Verma) all have pledged to kill Odious. The assassination covenant these people make leads them on a murderous journey that tears at little Alexandria’s soul.

Though we won’t tell how all of this weaves together or the outcome of Walker’s and Alexandria’s lives, the suicidal depression and innocent loneliness remind us that some relationships may come together for unhealthy reasons. The damage that such relationships can produce is disturbing to all who care about our fellow human beings. With murder, suicide and betrayal the themes of this fantasy, the ultimate impact of this creative film is disturbing.

Discussion:

  • Do you believe that such a relationship as Roy’s and Alexandria’s could form today with our sensitivity toward child abuse? Were you uncomfortable when they pulled the sheet around Walker’s hospital bed such that they were not visible to the nurses and doctors?
  • The depression that fuels Walker’s fantasy tale creates a dark and bloody mood. Did you feel his depression as you watched the film or did you have other emotions?
  • The conclusion of the film reveals a new health for Walker and Alexandria. Do you accept the path they took to achieve this as being a possible path in real life?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara, and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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