While it undoubtedly conjures up memories of Terry Gilliam’s thoroughly entertaining box-office flop The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the always enjoyable The Princess Bride, Tarsem Singh’s most recent venture into visual avant-garde filmmaking, The Fall, is a spectacle to behold.
Although The Fall is distinctly more violent than both of the aforementioned films, the similarities between the three movies are numerous, with The Fall containing both the characteristic strong fantasy story interspersed with the somewhat odd and quirky humor.
Tarsem, the one-word name that the director prefers to be referred to as, has constructed a visual barrage of dazzling images and settings that successively stun the viewer with their beauty.
However, the strong focus that Tarsem has placed on imagery seems to have shifted his priorities away from the film’s story, creating an emotionally lacking film that tries desperately to find substance and meaning.
Set in 1910, The Fall follows Roy Walker (Lee Pace, excellent with what he’s given), a Hollywood film stunt man who has been injured on the set of his most recent film as he attempted to do an extremely dangerous stunt in an effort to woo the girl he loves.
Trapped in a hospital and unable to walk, Roy befriends a young girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru, cute), who is similarly stuck under the care of nurses due to a broken arm.
With little opportunity to engage in many other activities, Roy begins to tell Alexandria a fantasy story about five men seeking revenge on the evil Governor Odious, each man having been betrayed or suffered a loss at the hand of this ruthless leader.
The group is composed of a masked bandit, an explosives expert, an Indian, an African prince, and Charles Darwin.
As the film progresses, several parallels can be noted between the fantasy story being told by Roy and the actual events that unfold onscreen at the hospital. Roy’s depression due to his physical blunder is further amplified by the departure of his girlfriend. He sees little left to live for and feels that suicide is the answer. It is in this sense that his fanciful story is a means to bribe the young Alexandria to steal morphine for him, as Roy periodically stops the story and says that he will not continue until she brings him the painkillers.
The line between fiction and reality progressively blurs as Roy, and eventually Alexandria, find themselves as characters in the adventure (Roy becomes the masked bandit, and Alexandria had been hiding in Charles Darwin’s bag).
Shot in 18 countries over a period of three years, it’s obvious that The Fall is Tarsem’s labor of love, more of a film he made to satisfy himself than to appeal to any wide audience.
However, this isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its moments and that it isn’t enjoyable. In particular, the charismatic performances given by the two lead actors, Pace and Untaru, help make up for any lack of emotionality in the writing.
Also, the locations and settings shown in the movie are of the most fantastical kind and feel as though they are from another past world, relics from long ago (as I’m sure they are).
The film’s score is excellent and compliments the onscreen events, while the several comedic moments, although somewhat dark, provide a refreshing break from the heavy-handed themes.
Despite these positive aspects of the movie, it is easy to connect Tarsem to his freshman directorial effort, The Cell, as it exhibited the same visual style as The Fall, but also fell flat plot wise.
The main detractor from the film is the weak script, which is compounded by uninspiring plot points and very little action.
Tarsem would have been wise to spend more time with the two other writers, developing a screenplay worthy of his great attention to visual detail and preponderance of style.