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The Fall (2006) by Tarsem Singh


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I feel like I'm cheating on classic films, romancing this newer film behind their backs, but this movie has rocketed to the top of my favorites list and that's saying something since my "top ten" hasn't changed in about twenty years. I'm posting about it here on TCM because it is about an early Hollywood stuntman and is a paean to film making and ought to be of interest to classic film devotees like y'all. (Astute viewers will recognize tips of the hat to A Clockwork OrangeThe Bicycle Thief and others.)


Set in a hospital on the outskirts of Los Angeles around 1915, Hollywood stuntman Roy Walker is recovering from a stunt gone horribly wrong. Bedridden and unable to walk, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a five-year-old immigrant girl, Alexandria, who has broken her arm while picking oranges. He begins to tell her an "epic tale of love and revenge," the story of the Masked Bandit and his four sidekicks, all out to murder the evil Governor Odious for the wrongs he has done them. 



As he tells the story, it grows large in the vivid, childish imagination of Alexandria and the scene shifts from the quiet, softly lit hospital to dazzlingly beautiful locations around the world as the story unfolds, cast with characters from Alexandra's own experiences. But Alexandria is no passive listener. She calls Roy on inconsistencies and exerts her influence to alter the course of the story, going so far as to switch the Masked Bandit from her father (who has been murdered in real life) to Roy, with whom she has fallen in love.


But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Roy has a dark agenda and Alexandria desperately inserts herself into the story when she realizes how very high the stakes truly are.


Okay, you say, this sounds familiar. And it's true that other films have employed a real world frame story around fantasy sequences. But what makes this one different is that this real world story is not a frame. The two stories are inextricably linked and all of the elements and events in the fantasy inform on the real world and what is going on in Roy's fractured psyche. 


Best known for its dazzling visuals (which only use CGI effects to remove anachronisms like power lines), this film is often unfairly dismissed as empty eye candy. But it is so much more than that. At heart, it is an intimate love story and a testament to the redemptive power of storytelling and the great responsibility we take on when we invite someone into our lives, regardless of our agenda. Rich in symbolism and metaphor, it is a film that requires audience participation and rewards multiple viewings. Everything in it means something. It is a treasure box of myriad drawers filled with little gems to discover. 


It's not a perfect film. The reason for Roy's great despair is not established well enough to completely support the ultimate resolution. But I found on subsequent viewings that I was prepared to fill in the missing beats for myself because the rest of it is so beautifully, refreshingly different. And some of the supporting performances are awkward, but the performances of the two leads is a remarkable and often unscripted collaboration of great sweetness and tenderness. 

I can't recommend this undervalued, unusual gem highly enough!

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He is a very visually extravagant director.


He's a virtuoso with an unerring eye for composition. It's true that the visuals in this particular film can overwhelm the story at times and can also dazzle to the point where you miss the significance of the scene or the intended symbolism. But that's really a high class problem with a simple solution. You just have to watch it again. I would love to see it on the big screen. It never came to my backwater town.

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