The Fall

The Fall

Film review by: Witney Seibold



            In 2000, music video director Tarsem Singh made an underrated film called “The Cell.” It featured tabloid flameout Jennifer Lopez as a psychotherapist who used a sci-fi machine to “enter” the subconscious minds of problem patients. Peoples’ subconscious minds are abstract phantasmagoriae full of strange unconnected images of stunning beauty. She eventually uses the machine to explore the mind of a comatose serial killer in order to find where his next victim may be starving to death. Roger Ebert called “The Cell” one of the best films of the year, although most critics, and even more audiences, rejected the film as needlessly arty and were unable to support Lopez. I didn’t think it was the best film of the year, but I earnestly stand behind “The Cell” as one of the more visually astonishing films of the last decade, and a solid and fascinating and beautiful thriller.


            Tarsem Singh, now just calling himself Tarsem, has now made his second feature film, and it’s every bit as beautiful and every bit as astonishing. In addition, it’s also very touching. It’s called “The Fall” and it’s about a hospitalized injured stuntman (Lee Pace), recently dumped by the love of his life, who tells a complicated adventure story to a five-year-old girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who is staying at the same hospital, in exchange for the drugs he needs to commit suicide.


            We see the story he tells in grand complicated images. It is the story of six dejected and banished adventurer-types who all vow to kill the land’s evil king. There is the escaped slave (Marcus Wesley), the Italian explosives expert (Robin Smith), an Indian (Jeetu Verma), Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), a grime-covered mystic (Julian Bleach), and a masked bandit (Emil Hostine, then Pace later on) whose motivations seem to resemble the stuntman’s.


            The central conceit of the story-within-the-film is that we’re seeing it from inside Alexandria’s imagination. This means the film is not only endlessly creative, but full of childlike amusement. When the stuntman tells her of an Indian with a squaw and a teepee, she pictures an Indian with a turban; the kind she’s more familiar with. When he makes a mistake in the story, or gets to a part she doesn’t like, the images change to match her corrections.


            There are two climaxes, one in the story and one in the hospital, and the mix together perfectly. Unlike “The Cell,” though, which was a mere thriller, “The Fall” reaches further into human experience to pull out gems of hope. Untaru, a little girl, is not a buttony little moppet designed to tug at our syrup-encrusted heartstrings. No, she is merely, naturally, a little girl. One with a fantastic imagination.


            While “The Fall” is full of astonishing and impossible images, Tarsem has very rigidly steered away from the use of CGI. All the visual trickery was accomplished using old-fashioned camera tricks, elaborate sets and costumes, and the ever-reliable blue-screen. CGI can be impressive when used correctly, but “The Fall” has a visual richness that I very rarely see in special-effects-heavy CGI films.

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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