The Fall is a fantasy drama written and directed by Tarsem Singh. Released six years after his directorial debut The Cell, this was a superior follow-up. With its extremely unique and exquisite visuals, this film looks utterly stunning and is an improvement over his first movie both in terms of appearance and content. It’s no secret that certain directors try to perfect an aesthetic multiple times; James Cameron for instance, made Terminator twice not just to elaborate on the story but to improve on the look and feel, and the Avatar trilogy or possibly quadrilogy, is essentially Aliens and Abyss combined with a bigger budget and more tech. Since it was the cerebral sections of The Cell that worked the best, The Fall again delves into the imagination but this time the aesthetic looks much more professional and the 1910’s setting somehow gives the movie more substance. Viewing the Beethoven-scored, black and white opening titles alone gives you goosebumps and what follows is like the bastard child of Guillermo del Toro and David Fincher; style and substance in abundance…
The film stars Lee Pace, who was largely unknown back in the noughties but who has come to the fore with Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Hobbit, and Driven. Pace plays a stuntman named Roy Walker (insert Catchphrase joke here) working in the silent film era. After an accident he is left bedridden in a hospital. There he meets a fellow patient, a girl named Alexandria played by Catinca Untaru and he begins to tell her stories which she then imagines. Her imagination is what we the audience see alongside the narration from Roy. Weaving together a tale involving a masked bandit, an ex-slave, an Indian warrior, an explosives expert, Charles Darwin, and a monkey, the tale also incorporates what Pace’s character feels and people he knows (expanding on the idea from The Wizard Of Oz). Potentially paralised, Roy’s journey from suicidal to redemptive is a joy to watch. There’s also nice touches here and there including Roy, Alexandria, and their day-to-day acquaintances playing characters in the imagined world and their real-life experiences affecting the story’s outcome. Then we have the Indian (as in Native American) in Roy’s story versus The Indian (as in south Asian) which Alexandria imagines and this illustrates what occurs in one’s mind when information meets expectation or even preconception. I have to say that the way the film is told, I was expecting a disheartening ending but that doesn’t occur. This is a feel-good movie in many ways and despite its unbalanced pacing, it’s captivating from start to finish.
Lee Pace I’m convinced, would make a well-spoken and intelligent Die Hard villain on-par with Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons, but here, he’s charming and comes across as affable. Catinca Untaru who’s as cute as a button and who reminds me of my sister, gives this film a sense of youthful mischief and curiosity, and her Kes-like performance is extremely enjoyable to watch. Her Romanian accent and broken English makes Alexandria all the more endearing and Catinca ad libs many lines including a humourous misspelling of “Morphine” as “Morphin3” which leads to an unintended plot point (bringing only three pills). These impromptu exchanges show that Pace wasn’t afraid to back-and-forth off-script with Untaru and Singh was comfortable enough to allow these spontaneous occurrences add to his movie. When there’s magic on set and the improvisation works well (Midnight Run for example) it creates a tone and feel like no other and helps said work to become a classic as is the case here.
Presented by David Fincher and Spike Jonze, the film’s credits show that Tarsem Singh’s artistic peers could see what most of the audience could; that he’s a very talented director who would surely go on to become an auteur given the chance. The Fall is another underrated and underappreciated gem from Tarsem and if you check out the Rotten Tomato and Metacritic scores for this and The Cell, you realise something’s suspicious about those “trustworthy” ratings. Roger Ebert called this film “Magnificent” and I agree. Balls to the dodgy, crooked, and possibly racist critics working for clickbait online magazines who’ve somehow gained respect and authority.
I’ll concede that after The Cell, Tarsem can be labelled a one-trick pony but my, what a trick. Repetitious or not, surely it’s better that a director completely embraces their own style rather than copy others? Unfortunately that didn’t happen beyond this film. Immortals for instance, was just a poor-man’s 300 and given that Zack Snyder was also a graduate of ArtCenter College of Design, it’s odd that someone would choose (or be forced to) copy a fellow alumni especially when their own aesthetic is far superior. After The Fall, Tarsem’s filmography dipped, the extravagance and individuality was lost but I have yet to discover why.
The one possibility is that both The Fall and The Cell were created under producers and studio executives who gave freedom to their creatives. If that’s true, then it’s the subsequent suits that are responsible for the slow decline of Tarsem’s career. I’ve read that Tarsem Singh put his own money into making this movie because he wanted to create something without outside pressure and according to his own vision. Filmed over four years, this was clearly a passion project for Singh and the end result shows; it’s astounding. Unfortunately, thanks to the morons overseeing marketing and promotion (which inadvertently includes critics) this movie made a reported $3.7 million from a $30 million budget. Maybe that was the intended industry message to other filmmakers: make what you want and you’ll lose money.
Now a cult classic, The Fall has yet to find a bigger audience or recoup its cost, mainly because it’s not on any streaming service as part of the subscription fee. You can view it on VOD but with the somehow-trusted Rotten Tomato score turning potential renters away, most people won’t bother. What a corrupt system that is (I feel another article coming on). Sometimes titles and search engine results also keep a superior piece of work in the underground. Similar to the inferior Changeling being more widely known, most people think the Netflix series The Fall is the one they must watch; of course they’re wrong.
So is it possible for someone to make two flukes? By definition you cannot. In my opinion, Tarsem Singh was a visionary stifled and restrained. Both The Cell and The Fall, despite their flaws, are classics. Fuck what the arse-goblins at review aggregate sites say, this is an artistic masterpiece. Go seek it out. It’s well worth it.
The Fall From Grace.