“You always stop at the same part, when it's very beautiful. Interesting.” -Alexandria, The Fall
Sometimes, when browsing Netflix, one becomes overwhelmed with the sheer volume of shows and movies and subpar stand-up comedy specials to pick from. There are individual sections for action, romance, and adventure but the true 21st-century consumer doesn’t have the time or patience to watch three entire movies from three separate genres. If only there was a film that fit every genre, that was a bacchanal for the senses, and that could titillate even the film snobs of the community.
Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, filmed in 28 countries over a period of four years, is a balm to the wound that is the modern-day cornucopia of monotonous Netflix originals. Proving that art and entertainment need not exist separately, Tarsem Singh can be described as nothing less than a visionary: determined to enact his own form of fantasy in the face of what is deemed ‘marketable’. He writes his own rules with the sole purpose of breaking them. Everyone needs to watch The Fall because there is no other film quite like it.
Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is left without the use of his legs after a silent movie filming accident and finds himself recovering alone in a hospital with the young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) and her limited grasp of the English language. Promising the young Romanian a story of epic proportions if she does Roy a few favours, the two enter into an unlikely friendship built on the back of a masked bandit and his four accomplices: the silent Indian, an ex-slave, an Italian explosives expert, and Charles Darwin. In a grand scheme to enact revenge against the nefarious Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone), the masked bandit faces far more daunting (and perhaps internal) perils than the pistols and knives his enemies wield. Exploring the grand themes of loss, love, and perception, the audience slips between two lines of rich narrative, each influencing the other.
What makes The Fall more than just a story within a story is the fact that the audience sees the fiction through the eyes of the impressionable Alexandria, who interprets and misinterprets the epic in a world of her own imagination. The misunderstandings seem slight; Alexandria mistaking Roy’s Native American ‘Indian’ hero as a turbaned prince of Southeast Asian is a key example. Soon, however, Alexandria’s own power over the story becomes both apparent and challenging to its original narrator. Singh alternates between the monochrome hospital rooms and the storm of colours conjured by Alexandria’s mind. Using no computer-generated effects, Singh still manages to orchestrate shots that contain the detail of Bosch and all the colour and arrangement of Alma-Tadema. The film's grand settings (ranging from the Taj Lake Palace to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul), carefully arranged framing, elaborate costuming, and thousands of well-choreographed extras further serve to enhance the visual experience.
It is hard to explain the crucial empathy of this film without revealing Roy’s underlying motives that colour the visuals of his story but are ever aware of the characters’ plight in the hospital. Every critic acknowledges the visual prowess of The Fall but some see it as only that: a visual masterpiece lacking story. The story may be simple but it is simple so that the riot of imagery that accompanies it can elevate its meaning instead of competing. The Fall may be extravagant but it’s also as elementary as the innocence of its lead actress. Walk into this movie without cynicism and you will find wonder but if you spend the entire screen time trying to weigh the special effects against the nuances of character, you’ll miss the primal awe that is essential for the experience Singh was trying to create.