Film Review: The Fall (2008)

By Allison Har-Zvi

We’ve all been swept away by a story at some time or another. Sometimes the feeling flows from a deluge of words that escapes the confines of a page, or sometimes it bursts from the lips of a particularly talented storyteller, but no matter what form the story takes, somehow the its characters spring to life, its fictional world melds with our own, and we are left thinking about surreal, fantastic adventures even after the tale has concluded and we’ve been returned to real life. The Fall, a 2008 film directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru, explores this power of a fantasy to impact reality and become inextricably tangled with the real world.

Set in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s, The Fall follows the experiences of five year-old Alexandria who befriends an injured Hollywood stunt actor named Roy and spends time with him while she recovers from a broken arm. Roy offers to tell Alexandria a spectacular tale about five bandits on a quest to destroy an evil villain named Governor Odious, and Alexandria is completely enthralled. She allows her imagination to run wild, bringing Roy’s story to life in vivid, awe-inspiring detail. However, as Alexandria becomes increasingly caught up in the story and the more serious and very real facts of Roy’s condition become apparent, the line blurs between Roy and Alexandria’s reality and the fiction they have created, and the story changes from an innocent fairytale into something a great deal more dangerous for them both.

The Fall seeks to demonstrate something about the way stories are told, and the ways in which they can be manipulated.

A part of the film’s brilliance comes from the way in which it allows its audiences to look through a child’s eyes. Alexandria, played by the charming young Catinca Untaru, provides the filter through which we view the movie’s entire sequence of events. Dialogue that would be uninteresting or confusing to a five year-old is muffled or overlapped with other dialogue, and it is only gradually that we begin to notice the concerns of adults that will come to affect Alexandria’s world. And as the bold little protagonist roams the hospital looking for ways to amuse herself, we see things as she does: the camera peeks through keyholes and other small openings, tilts upward at tall figures, and views private moments surreptitiously through windows and curtains. Moreover, in a manner reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, the characters in Roy’s story are all played by people Alexandria knows; the heroes are hospital workers, visitors, and friends from the orange grove where she works, the evil Odious’ henchmen take the form of the hospital’s X-ray technicians who frighten her, and her drawings and treasures are incorporated seamlessly into the story, which takes place in colors so bright they could have come only from a child’s imagination.

We also see the ways in which Roy begins to think like a child as he tells the story. Details of the story, no matter how significant, become easily switched or discarded. The setting is important but fluid, changing locations frequently with the effect that the fantasy seems to take place in some otherworldly dreamland. Plot holes and nonsensical turns of events are included quite deliberately; they are the result of Roy’s improvisation and an imagination that has gotten carried away, and while Alexandria occasionally points out a discrepancy in the events of the story, these details for the most part do not concern her very much. Thus, the film seeks to demonstrate something about the way stories are told, and the ways in which they can be manipulated.

The fantasy Roy invents also allows for one of the movie’s most alluring characteristics: its aesthetic appeal. The Fall is visually breathtaking. The five adventurers in the story journey through a world that is beautiful and exotic, through vast panoramic landscapes and spacious palaces that stand in contrast to the comparatively small and drab hospital wing. While this is one of the film’s greatest strengths, it is also a shortcoming, as there are sections of the movie where the visual feast is taken to excess. The movie was filmed in nearly 20 countries, and it seems that some of the scenes shot in gorgeous, foreign locations were included purely for aesthetic indulgence, with little or no relevance to the plot. Still, the astonishing visuals that accompany Roy’s story make the movie a joy to watch, even when they go a step too far.

Though it does delve into some heavy themes, The Fall maintains a skillful balance of childish antics and adult worries, whimsical storytelling and harsh realities. It treads the line between the fantastic and the real like a tightrope walker, and it does so with grace. It is well worth viewing multiple times to catch some of the magnificent details that are easy to miss the first time. Viewers should be warned, however, that though the movie is presented from a child’s perspective, it is not a movie for children; the film is rated R and contains some graphic violence. However, for mature audiences looking for an artistic and powerful piece, it is wonderfully enchanting. It may just be one of those stories that has the power to sweep you away.

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About Allison Har-Zvi

Allison Har-zvi is a student at Williams College, where she works on the staff of the Williams Literary Review, a college literary magazine in which her work has also been published. In 2009, she was selected as a winner of the Ayn Rand Institute essay contest. When not working with words, Allison enjoys singing, theater, volleyball, skiing, and spending time with her family in New Jersey. She is planning to major in English, and hopes to have many opportunities to work with literature in the years to come.

One Comment

  1. Lauren Perez
    Posted March 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Great review, there’s just a small error to correct: The Fall came out in 2006 (another film of the same name came out in 2008, which is where I think the confusion came from).

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