Apr 16 2013

The Fall Might Be the Actual Most Underrated Movie Ever

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Movies

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2006 was a terrific year for movies. And, oddly enough, a terrific year for movies that utilized narratives within narratives. Think the unfinished book in The Fountain, or the fantastic trials in Pan’s Labyrinth, or the epic story in The Fall

Wait, what’s The Fall? I get asked that just about every time I’ve mentioned it — even to legitimate “movaie types.” Rarely have I encountered a movie of this quality that’s known by less people. The Fall is a movie about Alexandria, a little girl who strikes up a friendship with a silent-movie stuntman while the two of them are hospitalized together. Roy (the stuntman) begins to tell her an epic tale, to her delight. Soon, though, it becomes obvious that his motives for doing so aren’t pure at all.

It also might be the most underrated movie of all time. Maybe.

Let’s start at the top. The mad genius behind this movie goes by the compact name Tarsem. If you want to use his last name, it’s Tarsem Singh. Coming from a background of music videos, he shot this movie over a period of four years in 18 different countries. It sounds like a ton of effort — and it is — but every single frame of the movie shows the results. You’ve likely never seen a movie like it.

Also, for those of you looking for a break from the post-processed look our movies have these days, most of the incredible vistas in the film are 100% real.

vista

Many of the sequences in the fantasy narrative are, without a doubt, stunning. A man rides across a desert, backed by an orange dune. A poisoned map creates cartographic tattoos on the mystic who eats it. A dead brother’s blood stains a 70-foot white banner bright red. The mythology and imagery woven into The Fall’s meta-narrative is some of the most distinctive, memorable stuff I’ve seen in a long time.

Tarsem Singh, as you might guess from his name, isn’t from around here. Meaning that — to this American’s eyes — his particular brand of mythology feels wonderfully fresh. I mentioned Pan’s Labyrinth earlier, and The Fall feels similarly distinctive, even though the cast of characters features some types you’ve heard of before.

Since The Fall, he’s gone on to direct the (presumably) lesser films Immortals and Mirror, Mirror. While I haven’t seen them, the trailers and feedback for those projects indicate his eye is as good as ever, but his storytelling chops have been swallowed up by the Hollywood machine.

immortals
Though, in fairness, holy crap.

In fact, that brings me to one of the main criticisms leveled against The Fall at the time of its release. A fair amount of people claimed The Fall was an incredible spectacle, but the story it provided wasn’t up to snuff. Personally, I think that’s a load of crap. I can see thinking that the meta-narrative that Roy tells Alexandria lacks propulsion, especially at its start. Sure. The point of that story, though, isn’t to be particularly suspenseful or compelling. It’s primarily there as a window into Alexandria’s thoughts and imagination.

One of The Fall‘s great delights is seeing the story Roy tells, but filtered through Alexandria’s mind. When he describes an “Indian,” meaning the kind cowboys fight, she pictures an “Indian,” as in someone from India. The movie constantly finds new, inventive, and surprisingly honest ways to render the child’s perspective first and foremost.

This is a device I see often… the view of the child — but rarely (never?) has it felt as honest and essential as in this particular movie. Alexandria doesn’t feel like a character in a movie. She doesn’t feel like a facade put on by an actress. She truly and always feels like a real little girl caught in a situation she cannot fully contextualize.

For that, you have to look to Catinca Untaru.

alexandria

According to Tarsem, he knew the movie had to go into production as soon as he met little Catinca. He is absolutely right on that count. Looking at the breadth of what she accomplishes in the film, it’s impossible to imagine a different child in the role, and from everything I’ve seen and heard it’s because she is precisely that character she’s playing.

It’s the little things that really bring Alexandria to life. The way she gnaws on her cast. Her difficulty understanding English from time to time. Her halting attempts to articulate her thoughts in ways the adults can understand.

Tarsem and his crew, frankly, did a hell of a job. It’s hard enough to corral kids in real life; I can’t imagine guiding this little girl through a dramatically coherent performance in a movie of this complexity and maturity.

Not that the effort put in by Tarsem should diminish Catinca’s contributions to the final film. To the contrary, her spirit and honesty elevate it to a status it couldn’t possibly achieve with a more conventional performance at its center.

pace

Now, most of the good people who’ve seen the movie quickly point out Catinca’s wonderful performance, but not as many noticed the effort from her co-star, Lee Pace.

Pace had the unenviable task of playing a bedridden guy who manipulates a little girl into stealing him some painkillers, and making the character sympathetic instead of just coming off like huge jerk. He walks this line with an impressive ease.

The really astonishing part of his turn in the movie, though, is that he more than almost anybody else on the project was responsible for coaching Catinca through her acting beats. According to an interview I saw once upon a time, he basically had to make his performance as real as possible. The more authentic he was, the better she became.

astrangepair

Of course, Lee Pace has been a favorite of mine since 2007. That was the year he totally rocked it as the lead in the tragically short-lived Pushing Daisies. Absolutely no one else would have so successfully rendered the sweet, endlessly adorable Ned the Pie-Maker in that show. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine a better take on The Fall‘s wounded, manipulative Roy.

While we’re at it, he’s great as a racist, wonderfully articulate Congressman in Lincoln, and presumably he’ll be good when he shows up again in the next Hobbit (all he did in the first was ride a moose).

Lee Pace, ladies and gents, is one of those actors who really, really should start getting more attention than he has so far. Which makes him a perfect fit for The Fall, actually.

darwin

Oh, hey! We’re back on topic. Cool.

A quick jaunt to BoxOfficeMojo.com showed that The Fall made less than $3 million domestically. That’s less than a tenth of what Pan’s Labyrinth made. It’s less than a third of what The Fountain made. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, people have at least HEARD of those movies, even if they didn’t see them or didn’t care for them.

You’ll notice I keep comparing this movie to polarizing, visionary pieces. There’s no other company that suits The Fall better. I’ve praised its technical virtues plenty — and I could go on — but this is more than a well-made, artistic film. It’s a Great Movie.

Most movies about stories come from the perspective that stories are wonderful ways to use an active mind. That they help us conquer fear, spread love, and touch the hearts of millions. The Fall reminds us that stories can also be used to manipulate. They get in our heads and alter our perceptions. In the hands of a dishonest narrator, they can become weapons.

danger

True healing can only come from another person. From each other. In this movie, no matter how compelling a story may be, the most important thing about it is the relationships between the people it connects. Of course, that’s not to say that stories aren’t important. In fact, The Fall sees them as so powerful that the mere act of telling one becomes a responsibility. In one of the more profound moments in The Fall, Roy’s anger infects the narrative; the characters Alexandria’s grown to love suffer senselessly. She pleads with him to stop.

“It’s my story!” Roy responds.

“Mine too,” comes Alexandria’s reply.

You really oughta think about making it yours, too.

 





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14 responses so far

  • http://saraclemens.com/ Sara Clemens

    I love love love this movie. Love. My husband and I constantly quote it to each other (mostly variations on “give each soldier a leeeeeeetle bit” when we ask each other for something). I watch it every Christmas, and it was the first blu-ray I’ve ever bought.

    Justine Waddell as Nurse Evelyn deserves a mention, too. She’s much more peripheral, but she’s so kind in her scenes with Alexandria that it’s easy to see why girl imagines her as the princess in the story. I’m a big fan of Miss Waddell.

    I think Roger Ebert had it right: “You might want to see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it.”

  • John

    I’m sold!!!
    Thanks.

  • slygore

    Great movie. Glad to see it get some love. I will see any Tarsem movie his visuals are unequaled.

  • IngridToday

    I ****LOVE*****

  • Chooch

    And 13 years ago he did the Cell is the same style. Kids these days!

    /shakes old man fist

  • http://nope hallamq

    I don’t know, it’s underrated for sure (mainly because nobody knows about it) but whenever I’ve recommended it or watched it with someone, they only sort of like it. I think it’s a beautiful movie and has that hidden-gem charm, but if it had been hyped and released with massive distribution and a well-known lead, it would’ve bombed and gathered a fair share of bad reviews. It’s the least hit-and-miss Tarsem will ever be, but still hit-and-miss. Still a great choice for any ocassion, especially a date. You can be certain your date has not seen this, and will at the very least love the visuals. So will you.

  • trashcanman

    Hard not to be sold with a review like that. I will watch this thing and thank you, sir.

  • Tenacious EJ

    I once took some childhood friends to see Blade Runner when the Director’s Cut was released. Both feel asleep pretty quick. But I loved it before and after. The Fall is kind of like that. Its not a movie intended for an American audience because we Americans, for the most part, have had Hollywood poured down our throats since we were children. We can’t understand or tolerate “artsy” films, or movies where the good guys don’t win. Its why we are Americans, and likely one of the reasons why a hefty portion of planet Earth despises us. We have a sort of moral code- we are told early on who the good guy is, and we believe he’s the good guy til the end. You can’t tell us different. You can’t tell Americans that the reason 9/11 happened was due to decades of interference and dominance in the affairs of other parts of the world because all we see is our side of things- what we’ve been taught since birth. Namely, that America is the birthplace of freedom and we are the good guys.

    The Fall is not an “American” movie. It doesn’t conform to those standards. The good guy quickly turns, not exactly bad, but he ain’t good. He is a hero in Alexandria’s story, and in her young eyes in reality, but we know his true intentions, and they are far from noble. What you’re left with is a film without a hero, and that is something most Americans cannot identify with. The result is, simply, that The Fall is not a movie most Americans will enjoy. Sure, free thinkers and artists will enjoy the visuals, as they should, but they will still probably not recommend it to their friends. And this is a shame. Tarsem’s movie is beautiful and wonderfully acted. Its brilliant from the outset, and the story told with no words in the credits sets the tone. And from there it leads you down an unconventional path toward, sadly, a finale that falls apart, though the road that takes you there is candy for the eyes. Unfortunately, in our cell phone obsessed ADD world, I fear many will miss the show. I’d really be interested to see how many people read this review, watch the movie, and come back here and write and express their thoughts on the film. Personally, though I really enjoy The Fall, I cannot call it underrated. I give it 3 out of 4 stars, and I think most of the respected critics out there did the same. Its not a perfect film, but its a perfect vision of one.

  • keo

    I came upon this film after looking up Lee Pace. I was looking up the cast of one of my favorite, and most underrated tv shows ever, Wonderfalls. He and the show are great, check it out.

  • liked00dness

    LOVED this movie. I thought the whole cast did a bang-up job, but the little girl blew me away. She is the only child actress, in any movie, that actually feels like a real child. Child actors always come across exactly as they are: cute puppets manned by someone reminiscing about childhood. It really seemed to me that they had just let some little girl wander on set and started filming. And that’s how it should be.

  • Langolyer

    This movie is shit and girl is ultimately annoying.

  • Josh

    It’s also worth noting that he paid for this film entirely out of pocket because he didn’t want to deal with Hollywood BS. Every actor was also paid the same hourly rate, too.

  • Andy

    I first heard about this movie on this site and it’s been my guilty pleasure movie ever since. Really loved the simplicity of the movie, it’s like a reminder to everyone one of us to relook at the world with a child’s eyes.

  • Zaggnita

    YES!! About time somebody mentions this movie beside myself. This movie is in my top ten movie list.

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