Strange new world 

The Fall

Messing with your brain gets really messy in The Fall.
  • Messing with your brain gets really messy in The Fall.

*The Fall (R)

Kimball's Twin Peak

Maybe all you need to know about The Fall is that it's "presented by" David Fincher and Spike Jonze, those guys who mess with our brains in the name of entertainment. They take movies to new places and expand our ideas about what films can do.

First they gave us, Fincher's Fight Club and Seven, and Jonze's Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Now this one: Tarsem Singh's The Fall.

I'm not sure, even after pondering this extraordinary and bizarre film, whether it works. But if it doesn't, it misses in a way that other films should aspire to. Watching The Fall is a thoroughly unique experience; it never lets you forget you're watching a movie, and yet it's so enrapturing that you get lost in it. It feels real, even though it's about the falsity of storytelling. You willingly suspend disbelief, while recognizing the cognitive dissonance that requires.

And there, in the way it forces you to examine your reactions to "the movies," is The Fall's peculiar genius.

As much as I despised Singh's first film, The Cell, I adore this one. The Cell was daring, but it dared in a direction that didn't seem worth exploring. Singh took us into the head of a serial killer, not to explicate such madness, but merely to turn madness into something as cool as a heavy-metal album cover. Here, Singh who wrote the script with Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis explores intriguing concepts such as why we tell stories and how the imagination of children works. I want to say that The Fall is so much lighter than The Cell, except it isn't.

It's 1915, and Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is laid up in a Los Angeles hospital with a broken back. He's one of Hollywood's first stuntmen which drags in themes about fantasy, reality and deliberate deception and he was injured during a stunt gone wrong.

On top of that, his girl ran off with the movie's leading man. So he's depressed. But he can't move from his bed because his legs are paralyzed. On a whim, he enlists another patient, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), in a scheme to steal morphine pills so he can kill himself. The child has no idea what's going on; she just knows that Roy tells the most delightful stories and that she'd do anything to keep the tales coming.

The Fall is unlike any movie I've seen, yet it reminds me a bit of The Princess Bride. Pirates, revenge, strange characters and unlikely plot twists get sent up here, too, in the story Roy spins for Alexandria. There's also something in the film reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. We see the story entirely from Alexandria's perspective, turning Singh's worldwide locations Bali, Italy, Fiji, Prague, China and South America into primary-colored fantasy lands populated by strange characters who have familiar faces.

The beautiful weirdness of Alexandria's imaginary world grates against the harsh reality of Roy's ulterior motives, so that in the end we almost don't know what we're "supposed" to feel and that's a good thing. Because for all its artificiality, there's something of the found object about The Fall, as if it had sprung from the forehead of a minor demigod who may be like Roy with Alexandria playing tricks on us.

Yet we don't mind, because the story alone is worth it.


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