Set in 1920s Los Angeles, paralysed stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) grieves in his hospital bed over a failed stunt on-set which caused his legs to become immobile. Depressed and alone, he passes the time by telling stories to another patient, the avidly curious child Alexandra (Catinca Untaru). The stories are drawn from both Roy and Alexandra’s life, both characters pressing their made-up narrative forward depending on their deteriorating mental state (in Roy’s case) or by the impressions the various hospital staff leave on their real lives. Such is Alexandra’s position, and coupled with her unrestrained childish brain this creates the abstract imagery environments that make up the story that passes her and Roy’s time at the hospital. However, despite Alexandra’s charmingly innocent interest in Roy and his ‘epics’, his sorrow starts to seep into the child’s life.
The film switches between the fictional world of five heroes and the hospital in which Roy and Alexandra are both stuck in. There is a contrast between the dark hospital filled with coughing children and crowded rooms, and the bright and varied worlds that The Bandit and his crew adventure through. Vast and vibrant landscapes fill the frame; abstract imagery of men swimming beneath elephants in the ocean is dreamlike and whimsical. They fill the viewer with enjoyment on a purely visually-appealing level. Unfortunately, I found that each of the character’s emotional journeys were lacking in comparison to the degree of grandeur that the imagery held. To have such beautiful images that then don’t match up to the narrative journey feels like it brings down the visual impact of said images, as what is actually happening within them is uninteresting. Lee Pace was fantastic as Roy, and his acting as The Bandit in the story world was performed well for what the character was, but everything that the mythical heroes did and every interaction that they had felt disconnected from each other and from the reality of Roy. There were no impressions of the real world onto the fictional past surface level (as clearly there was supposed to be an overlap), such as ‘The Indian’ in Roy’s story (referring to Native Americans) manifesting itself in Alexandra’s brain as a man she met from India. I feel like a bigger impact would’ve been made on myself as a viewer if the character’s actions in the fictional story were more specifically tied to what was happening in real life, to bring a stronger connection between fantasy and reality and therefore making a more obvious affirmation of the difference between this fantasy and reality, which is what the film is about overall. Roy is a stuntman, an actor in fictional stories, and Alexandra has the entire breadth of a child’s imagination – both of their imaginations and ability to tell stories need to be released from the hospital they are confined too, and so their shared story should hold this weight that the images and scenery manage to carry but the characters do not.
Watching The Fall, I often found myself thinking about Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant Spanish film from 2006; they both use stylised settings and fantastical representations relating to- or directly taken from- a child’s whimsy and imagination. Pan’s Labyrinth accomplishes this idea of a child’s imagination helping them adapt to their environment as a means of survival (the same concept including any type of vulnerable persons using mental escapism as a means of coping, including both Roy and Alexandra in this category). Whilst I’m not an advocate for pitting two movies against one another (as each film is a work of personal art in its own right) I do think Del Toro’s timeless masterpiece captures the coping mechanism that a vulnerable person clings on to in desperation that Roy (as a physically confined and suicidal man) and Alexandra (as a physically confined yet still curious child) never truly convey. The contexts of both films are of course different, but personal preference of emotional storytelling makes me feel like this aspect was missing from The Fall that would have made me attached to the characters, rather than feel passive at almost everything (bar the visual details).
Although my opinion is likely too critical when compared to the majority of online opinions of this movie, this is still worth a watch for what it is does accomplish that Tarsem and the cast contributed too. It took me a few scenes to get used to the acting of Catinca Untaru, but her performance ended up being perfect for the feeling of The Fall. She stumbled over her words like any child would, as if she was ad-libbing the entire script, coming across as natural and organic in execution. Pace’s greatest achievement in the film for me was the scene in which he woke up from his attempted suicide by morphine pills. His anger upon awakening conveyed a true sense of distress at his failure, and the inescapable world he feels trapped in – something I would have liked to see expressed and explored even further, as Pace’s acting ability really shone in these moments alongside Untaru’s upset in scenes where Roy is really in the depths of his despair. The combination of a curious and adventurous child with a hopeless and depressed adult is an interesting duo, especially in The Fall where it is expressed through different fictional worlds; I just believe it would have made a stronger impact to explore the characters more on an emotional level in both the fictional and real world in the film.
Note: there are no stills of The Fall accompanying this review as unfortunately the quality of them was not good enough.