In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances.
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Mr. Ebert says you should watch this movie just because it exists. Mr. Wilde says that art exists only for this reason. As an addict of aesthetics, especially when they agree with my own sensibilities, this movie is far and away the most beautiful thing created in the last ten years. Actually, I'll get back to you on whether its the most beautiful thing from the last century. What comes close? Hmmm... a couple Picassos, Maybe some Miles Davis. Henry Fonda's face? Well, if you combined these things and added the cutest child ever to act and strung them into a complexly plotted and tightly executed conglomeration of sight and sound, you'd get Tarsem's movie here.
Plot: girl breaks arm picking oranges in orange county. Hospitalized. Man paralyzes himself jumping from a moving train to horseback as he is a stuntman in early Hollywood. Hospitalized. When bones are broken and people are confined, unlikely friendships form and stories are told. The movie follows two plots: the story that he tells her and the story of their interactions with various doctors, nurses, priests, other patients... As the two plots intertwine, we learn more about each of their lives. As with all friendships, the more we learn of each character, the more complex plot. That is, he decides to commit suicide and enlists her in smuggling him morphine pills.
I mean, you just don't get more original or interesting or complex than that!
But! Its awesome does not end there!
Filmed in over 20 countries with a minimal of computer imaging, The Fall questions the power of imagination in a time period where people decided that moving pictures were both the new life and ultimate death of imagination. While it makes no effort to assert philosophy, The Fall exudes simple, childlike morality which is actually refreshing in our super gray world of ambiguity. What is bad? What is wrong? Manipulating children into aiding suicide: its bad, its wrong, it may be the ultimate bad wrong you can exert with your power as an adult. What is selfish and useless? Suicide. Period.
Tarsem sees little point lollygagging about thought-heavy things once these black and white morals are dealt with. Because of its moral simplicity the story becomes doubly potent and heart breakingâ€”you as viewer are sucked into the child's earnest perspective, pretty much regardless of how cynical you may think you are.
To make this all the more realistic, our lead actress, Cantica Untaru, is a young Romanian lass who actually barely acts. She was told â€œthis is a movie set, this is your co-star, this is the story.â€ Beyond that, most is ad-libbed. Her costar, Lee Pace, who I hope to see in many more things, knew what he had to say and where the story had to go, but beyond that... They even went so far as to not let him out of character the whole time so they were constantly interacting, as his character is paralyzed from the waist down, this includes him being in a wheel chair for the whole of filming. It comes through most poignantly. Love it.
Lemme see... Special effects are minimalist. It's one of the main appeals of the film as a whole. That fade from butterfly to island? Done the old fashioned way-with splicing of gelatin, not with photo-shop. I don't even want to try and comprehend how long it took them to set up the one desert shot that segues between the marriage and the death sentence scenes. Colors are all more vivid and enhanced, but not annoyingly so. Wash out filters are only used subtly, most glaringly in the last scene where Orange County and Alexandra's experience of it are nostalgia-ized with a sepia hue, but again, its acceptably subtle. Black and white is used only because it has to be in the plot. Slow motion is used perfectly â€“ not too much. Supporting cast, supports. Everything that seems out of place or odd is only as such because it fits the mind of an 8 year old in a foreign country imagining a story being told to her by an almost stranger.
When you're finished watching this the first time, you are nothing but stunned. Done the second, you start thinking about it, realize there's nothing to think about beyond the mastery of the film-making itself. Every detail your over analytical mind tries to pick apart and apply some obscure philosopher to just points back to the plot. Third watching, you start wondering how the hell long the story boarding must have taken.