Overview: In 1915, a film stunt man, paralyzed and lovesick, offers an improvised fairy tale to a young hospital patient with the hopes of coercing her into a dark scheme. Roadside Attractions; 2006; Rated R; 117 Minutes.
A Milestone in Film Production: With just one film under his belt (The Cell), director Tarsem had a vision and a drive to see it to fruition. Tarsem, to completely avoid studio influence, financed this film with his own money (along with the support of star Lee Pace and fellow former music video directors Spike Jonze and David Fincher). The Fall was shot in 28 countries. Twenty-eight. It took four years of filming to complete. And the most astonishing statistic of all: the film uses zero computer generated special effects.
The Wow Factor: For those who have seen the movie, this last metric is devastating and surreal. A man walks out of a burning tree. Blood seeps upward and dyes a massive white cloth red. Birds fly from the mouth of a dying man who has carried them inside his body. Rich choreography of perhaps hundreds of individuals set atop some of the most awe-inspiring landscape and architecture our planet has to offer. Costume and set design that would make Baz Luhrman self-conscious. There is astonishment in every frame of this film.
Fiction Within Fiction: This grand artistic presentation is used to express a calculated fairy tale being told within the movie, a fiction inside of fiction. The movie’s storyline reality is a disheartening one: Roy Walker, a Hollywood stuntman in love with his movies’ leading lady botches his stunt, rides his horse from a bridge. Confined to a bed in a Los Angeles hospital, he begins to realize he is likely paralyzed. He befriends Alexandria (an adorable Catinca Untaru), a young girl with a broken arm, and presents to her this improvised fairy tale, which he uses to manipulate the young girl, hoping he can convince her to steal enough medicine to allow him to overdose and die. The movie snakes between grim reality and beautiful fantasy (think Pan’s Labyrinth), but carries the cast into both worlds (think Wizard of Oz). Roy is the bandit hero of the story, his star lover is his object of affection, her real-life screen partner and likely real-life lover is the evil Governor Odius. Members of the hospital staff and patients show up as an escaped slave, Charles Darwin, and an explosives expert. In the movie’s reality, the film is carried by Pace’s subdued anguish, his heavy but silk voice, and the naturalistic and playful improvised dialogue between the stunt man and the child. When Roy’s despair is expressed within the story as violence and death, the young girl’s heartbreaking reaction color our sympathy for Pace’s character.
A Tragedy About Its Own Tragedy: Because this film never attained the audience it deserves, I’ll withhold most details about its conclusion, except one. In The Fall’s final sequences, Roy’s movie is shown on a projector in a dusty room to all the hospital’s patients. His stunt sequence comes and goes, the horse flying across the bridge, a certainly astonishing image to see projected in 1915. The children applaud lightly and then absorb themselves back into the movie, which belongs to its stars. A man has given everything for this small dose of appreciation. It is in this sense that this film has unknowingly become a metaphor about itself.
Grade: A +