originally published in the middlebury campus
Every now and then people need escape. No matter how stress-free your life is, an hour and a half of fantasy is necessary to ensure emotional and psychological health. That being said, fantasy and escape don’t need to be mindless. Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t have the market cornered on escapism with pithy one-liners, half hearted romance, and over the top bombast. Recent years have proven that adult-oriented fantasy can combine escapist entertainment with intelligence, and The Fall is a perfect example of just that kind of fantastical escape.
The Fall was released with relatively little fanfare early in the summer of 2008, and was released on DVD that September. The film tells the story of young girl Alexandra (the plucky Catinca Untaru) who is spending time in a 1920s Hollywood hospital after a fall from a ladder while picking fruit with her migrant worker parents. There she meets paralyzed and heartbroken stuntman, Roy (the fantastic Lee Pace, of Pushing Daisies fame), who spins a fantastical yarn of cowboys, Indians, ex-slaves, Italian explosive experts, and Charles Darwin for her. However, Roy’s intentions aren’t as simple as entertaining a young girl. Singh utilizes a narrative device similar to films like The Princess Bride, framing the fantastical story-within-a-story by interrupting it and moving back to reality.
Mr. Singh (here working under the name Tarsem) is one of the most renowned directors of commercials and music videos, and here his visual flair is on full display. We are presented with underwater shots of swimming elephants, gorgeous desert vistas, a city painted blue, and a scene that involves intersecting walls of zig-zagging staircases. There isn’t a single shot that isn’t stunning in its beauty, or awe-inspiring in its grandeur. What makes the film so remarkable is that none of these visuals are done using computer generated effects. Not even the shot of a man emerging from a burning tree. That little nugget of information, when combined with the fact that this film was self-financed by Tarsem, shot on twenty-six locations in over eighteen countries, and took four years to complete, makes the mere existence of this film a minor miracle.
When put up against such majestic and fantastical backdrops, it is sometimes easy for actors and characters to get lost in the fray, but Tarsem manages to ensure that the human element is never overwhelmed by the visuals. One is never given a privileged position over the other, and he is fortunate to have two extremely appealing leads in Pace and the ten year old Untaru.
Tarsem isn’t mining new territory here. As I mentioned before, he leans on classic fantasy films like The Princess Bride, the 1950s epics of David Lean, and the Bollywood films of his home country, India. It is Tarsem’s vivid visual flourishes that set him apart, though. At the time of its release some critics held this virtue against him, claiming that the unrestrained visual flairs were gaudy and pretentious. These criticisms seem to miss the point, though. The Fall, like Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, is a fairy tale for adults. It presents us with a fantastic world and asks us to not only remember what it was like to have the imagination of a child, but to try and regress to that state of innocence and wonder. Tarsem has managed to capture the purity and power of a child’s imagination, which is a feat that demands respect and makes The Fall a much more worthwhile bit of escapist entertainment than whatever movie Jerry Bruckheimer is planning to impose upon movie theaters in the near future.