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The Fall

A movie directed by Tarsem Singh

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Tell Me a Story

  • Jul 9, 2008
  • by
Rating:
+5
I remember the days when I had stories read to me. I remember how it made me feel. Me and about twenty other kids would gather at the teacher's feet, and I would actually imagine the story unfolding as she read aloud. I think we all have those memories buried somewhere within, those wonderful moments when the spoken word transcends mere speech and becomes a definite vision. Tarsem's "The Fall" works in much the same way, not only for the characters, but also for the audience; reality and fantasy are interchangeable, not separate. People from our world appear in the story, and characters in the story are broadly drawn from the people in our world. It's much like the whimsical dreamscape of "The Wizard of Oz," in which Dorothy awakens in Kansas and realizes that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Wizard were actually people she knew, therefore with her the entire journey.

But the dreamscape of "The Fall" is much more compelling than anything conjured out of whimsy. It's a character-driven fantasy that uses both its brain and its heart, with a story so compelling it doesn't let us escape. We don't much want to, especially if we hold true to the power of imagination and the hope of redemption. Paradoxically, it takes the imperfections of human existence to reach these perfect ideas; the characters of this film are flawed and vulnerable, far from a series of walking clichés. Many are manipulative and selfish. The main character is innocent, but at age five, she's also incredibly naïve. She sees and hears everything going on around her, and while she doesn't understand most of it, you can tell that she's trying to. Her name is Alexandria, and she's played by Catinca Untaru--she was so receptive to the material that I never once believed she was acting. She was living it.

Taking place in 1920s-era Los Angeles, "The Fall" actually opens with the aftermath of a bad fall, and we see a man and a horse pulled from a lake, having tumbled off a railroad bridge. Soon after, we meet little Alexandria, an immigrant worker hospitalized after breaking her arm picking oranges. Always with a box full of things she likes, she travels the hallways and wings of the hospital, mentally gathering the sights and sounds. One day, she wanders onto a lower floor and meets Roy Walker (Lee Pace), a bedridden, emotionally broken Hollywood stuntman; after some initial banter, Roy begins telling Alexandria an epic story of five men seeking revenge.

Over the course of the film, we see that the characters of Roy's story are reflections of the people in or around the hospital: a one-legged actor becomes Luigi (Robin Smith), a master of explosives; an orderly becomes Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), a naturalist who travels with a monkey, searching for an elusive breed of butterfly; the hospital's ice delivery man becomes Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), a former slave; an orange picker becomes the Indian (Jeetu Verma), who lost his intended so horribly, he vowed to never stare at another woman; Alexandria's dead father (Emil Hostina) initially becomes the Masked Bandit, but he's replaced by Roy when Alexandria says her father shouldn't be in the story. With the help of a tree-dwelling mystic (Julian Bleech), the five bandits journey across exotic lands to find the ruthless Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone), drawn from the hospital's Dr. Sinclair.

As the story progresses, we quickly realize that the characters aren't the only things mirrored from reality--the entire plot is a stylized reinterpretation of Roy's recent life. To say more would give too much away, but here are a few things to consider: (1) Roy periodically pauses the story and has Alexandria steal medicine for him; (2) he closes his eyes at one point and tries to guess which of his toes she's holding on to, and we're not sure if she tells him a lie; (3) he gets increasingly unwilling to see the story through to the end. Even when Roy's situation is finally explained, we still wonder what would possess him to do the things he does. For him, telling Alexandria a story is not his way of escaping into fantasy, but of gaining the upper hand. And yet we deeply care for him; we believe that a decent soul lies beneath the anguish, waiting for the right time to emerge.

At the same time, we're taken aback when Alexandria wishes to never get better. She seems to have formed a special bond with Roy, most likely because she doesn't know she's being manipulated. She probably doesn't even know what manipulation is; she does what she's asked without stopping to consider why she's doing it. With her, it's not about being sneaky but about experiencing life, and this is despite the limitations of young age and the confines of hospital walls. Keep in mind that we never see her playing with the other children in the pediatric ward; we suspect that she imagines things at a much more mature level, considering how well developed her communication skills are. She doesn't always have the words, but she somehow finds a way to get her point across. This kind of character development is rarely seen in today's movies; most are bogged down by predictable plotlines and mass-produced special effects. "The Fall" is a refreshing exception to the rule--a visual masterstroke with an engrossing character-driven plot. It's definitely one of the year's best films.

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More The Fall reviews
review by . June 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     It's so typical of most critics to attack a film that shows them something that they have never seen before. Critics claim that they understand what the term "art" really means, but is this so true? The purpose of art is to divide opinions. Or at least I believe that is one of its purposes. So maybe it is understandable that a very large amount of critics would dislike a film as bewildering as "The Fall". But is the purpose of art not to also entertain through …
Quick Tip by . October 14, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This quick tip is tied to my list of movies driven by strong child actors/characters.      Catinca Untaru was 11 during the filming for this brilliant movie.  She stands toe to toe (there is a silly pun here if you've seen the film) with veteran Lee Pace to create an amazing fable that wows and crushes.      More than one reviewer has said that Ms Untaru wasn't acting her part, she was living it.  I sincerely hope it is the former because …
review by . October 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   The Fall is a tale of magical realism told by a suicidal stuntman to a young migrant girl as both convalesce in a Los Angeles hospital.      Alexandria (11 or 12) throws a letter out a window—it is intended for a nurse. The wind blows it into Roy’s bed (Roy is in his early 20s). The pair meet when she goes to retrieve the letter.      He apparently injured his back doing a nearly impossible stunt, so he is bed ridden. Alexandria broke …
review by . November 04, 2009
This is probably the most visually intriguing movie that I have seen in years, if not ever. This fact is quite remarkable considering that the director Tarsem Singh has hardly used any special effects, but has rather opted to rely heavily on imaginative costumes and elaborate and exotic locations which were enhanced with the stunning cinematography. The movie tells a story of a 1920s stuntman who falls off a horse while filming a particularly daring scene. While recovering in a hospital, he befriends …
review by . September 20, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
A troubled young man, recuperating from a suicidal stunt and a broken heart, meets a precocious little girl with a broken arm. He begins to tell her a story, but is secretly intending to use her to get morphine that will allow him to take his own life.     The Fall is one of those rare films that is both a unique work of cinematic art and a crowd-pleasing gem. It is both beautiful to look at and has depth that is not apparent on a first viewing. For beauty and depth and for its …
review by . March 28, 2009
THE FALL is one of the more stunningly beautiful cinematic works to be created in recent years. Vibrant young director Tarsem Singh, born in India and trained at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, produced, directed and wrote (with Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Valery Petrov) this magical tale that blends fantasy, illusion, dreams, and altered reality with one of the more touching stories imaginable. The film takes many risks and for this viewer they all work. With only one other …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Wiki

Roger Ebert proclaimed it "one of the most extraordinary films I've ever seen," and there's no denying the avalanche of wild images inThe Fall: grand castles, desert vistas, elephants swimming in the open ocean. Commercial and music-video director Tarsem has piled these visions into an elaborate remake of an obscure Bulgarian film, Yo Ho Ho, which is anchored in (but by no means limited to) a quiet hospital during the silent-movie era. A stunt man (Lee Pace) is laid up with leg injuries, and an eye-popping black-and-white prologue (utterly mystifying while we're watching it) tells us how he got here. Depressed over his disability and a recent lost love, he plans suicide, but is temporarily derailed by the inquisitive friendship of a little girl (Catinca Untaru), to whom he tells wild stories of adventurers and princesses. We see these stories, which is where the dizzying visuals come in. This movie probably won't inspire many lukewarm responses: either you'll fall madly for this paean to storytelling magic, or you'll be suspicious about the parade of pretty pictures, which tend to have a magazine-layout sheen. The movie certainly has more soul than Tarsem's yucky previous feature,The Cell, and the scenes between Pace and Untaru (who scores an 11 on the cuteness scale) are genuinely charming. The director actually put a considerable amount of his own money into the production (which shot in over 20 countries), and whether you buy his ...
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Details

Cast: Lee Pace
Director: Tarsem Singh
DVD Release Date: September 9, 2008
Runtime: 117 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
First to Review

"Tell Me a Story"
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