The Fall

Movie Information

The Asheville Film Society will screen The Fall Tuesday, July 13, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of the Carolina Asheville. Hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Score:

Genre: Fantasy
Director: Tarsem Singh (The Cell)
Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Leo Bill, Jeetu Verma, Julian Bleach
Rated: R

I groaned when I saw the words “David Fincher and Spike Jonze present” on the DVD case of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (2006). “Great—two of my least favorite filmmakers,” I muttered, even while being conscious that this was a film that had been enthusiastically recommended to me by people who know something of my tastes and whose opinions I tend to trust. After a couple hours of some of the most mind-blowing imagery and deceptively complex storytelling, some things were clear—not the least of which was that I had seen something at least close to greatness and that one viewing barely scratched the surface of what I suspected was in the film. At the same time, I was—and am—utterly baffled by the fact that The Fall never played in Asheville theatrically. I am delighted to be involved in at least kind of rectifying that.

The story line of The Fall is actually several story lines that interconnect and, in a sense, form a single story. In terms of plot, it’s about an injured (paralyzed) stuntman, Roy Walker (Lee Pace), telling a fantastic story to a little girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who’s hospitalized with a broken arm. The story is depicted from her point of view, which results into its details being drawn from her surroundings and her perception of them. There’s more to it than that, because Roy has reasons for befriending her and telling her this story. But I’m neither revealing what that is, nor am I revealing the very dark turn the film takes, nor any of the surprises that crop up along the way.

The Fall is often praised—and rightly so—for its incredible visuals and nonstop stylishness. I have no problem with that, except that I think I’m equally taken by its thematic implications, the way it moves in and out of the story, and the cumulative sense that when all is said and done—from its stunning opening (set to the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony) to its final scenes—it’s also a movie about the movies. I don’t feel qualified to say more until I’ve seen the film a second time (at which time it may well move from four-and-a-half stars to the full five), because I’m certain it’s only slightly given up its mysteries.

But I do have a question for all of you who’ve been after me to catch up with this movie—why did it never occur to any of you to note that the movie has serious simian value? It not only has simian value, it rethinks the ending of All Quiet on the Western Front in terms of simian value! Had someone told me this, chances are it wouldn’t have taken me nearly so long to see it.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

40 thoughts on “The Fall

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    I’m very pleased to see that you enjoyed this, Ken. (Of course, I would’ve been pretty surprised if you didn’t.) Now I damn well better make it to this screening on Tuesday. Perhaps I could sell my sould for some babysitting? I’ll have to contact Paul Giamatti, and see if he knows anyone who might be in the market.

    why did it never occur to any of you to note that the movie has serious simian value?

    I can honestly say that it (oddly enough) managed to completely escape my mind.

    I did, however, consider comparing this to Pan’s Labyrinth (or perhaps I did at some point?), but after thinking about it, I thought that could potentially be very misleading. I suppose that there’s ultimately just too many layers for any sort of really valid comparison.

  2. John r

    I have to say that when I saw this , I was initially engrossed by the vivid visuals, but I was almost subconsciously drawn into the story. I then looked back at the film and realized that the visuals had almost become a distraction that made it easy to miss important pieces of the puzzle. I saw it a second time, filled in the missing pieces, and enjoyed it even more.

  3. Mike

    Quite possibly my favorite movie of the ’00s, if not all time; this is pure film making at its finest. Not surprised you liked this Ken, but glad you finally got to watch it all the same.

  4. I need to look at the numbers, but I do believe this is the biggest film we’ve ever had.

    I love this movie to death and am pleased it is getting its dues on video.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Not surprised you liked this Ken, but glad you finally got to watch it all the same.

    I am very much looking forward to seeing it larger this coming Tuesday.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I need to look at the numbers, but I do believe this is the biggest film we’ve ever had.

    It wouldn’t surprise me. Back when I briefly had a Netflix account, I noticed that the list of what the big rentals were in Asheville differed dramatically from what they were nationwide. And this strikes me as the kind — or one of the kinds — of film that would have great appeal here.

  7. davidf

    I can’t wait to see this on a bigger screen next week. In light of the discussion on the BLUE VELVET thread about favorite opening scenes, this one has got to be on or near the top of my list.
    I’m very grateful that everyone involved with the Asheville Film Society has made this showing possible.
    I finally made it to a showing, by the way. I saw BLUE VELVET last night and was impressed with the turnout. I’ll be sure to come a little early next week so I don’t have to sit on the floor again.

  8. Tomislav Pijonsnodt

    The Fall is a stunning film, but I wouldn’t give it more than four and a half stars.

    I’m an artist, so it goes without saying that I like total stylization and general weirdness. But I insist on a sense of secret symmetry, of underlying order to the weirdness. The presence of such order is clear in the films of Cocteau and Buñuel. By contrast, many of the visual trappings of The Fall strike me as nonfunctional and therefore distracting. It’s as though Dalí had added flamingos to “The Persistence of Memory”, thus taking the piece beyond surrealism to randomness.

    None of these reservations detract from the fact that The Fall is one of the most extraordinary films of the decade. Its excellence simply makes me more inclined to be exacting in my evaluation of its faults.

  9. Justin Souther

    I’ll be sure to come a little early next week so I don’t have to sit on the floor again.

    We’ve started getting people who show up 30+ mins ahead of time for this very reason.

    And in the future, if you can’t find a seat, try and find me. I’ll be more than happy to find some accommodating seating.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I’ll be more than happy to find some accommodating seating.

    I’ve watched more than one movie leaning against the bar. Whatever became of the beanbag chair? That was always fun for watching people get out of it. (I can’t believe that those were the only form of chair in my first place, but, hey, it the early 70s. Plus, I was a lot more agile then.)

  11. Justin Souther

    I’ve watched more than one movie leaning against the bar.

    There were barstools but you didn’t want one. And you’ve had much better seating than I have the past few weeks, so good luck finding someone more sympathetic.

  12. Dread P. Roberts

    Maybe The Fall could be the first to get a bigger room? I love the Cinema lounge, so I’m certainly not complaining either way, but that would be cool. I’m hoping (and half expecting) the attendance to be rather large – we’ll see. I’m so grateful for this opportunity, that I’ll be just as happy to sit on the floor, and let someone else have my seat. I’m excited!

  13. davidf

    I’ll be sure to get there reeally early next week. My back can’t handle the floor or the bar, plus THE FALL is too pretty to watch from the next room.

    Two bits of trivia that greatly enhance my appreciation of THE FALL: Tarsem Singh financed the filming of the movie with his own money (truly a labor of love), and, from what I’ve read he filmed it all on location without using any CGI or green screens.

  14. Ken Hanke

    There were barstools but you didn’t want one.

    I tried sitting on one and my compromised respiratory system couldn’t deal with the angle of the seat. Anyway, I wasn’t complaining or looking sympathy, merely remarking on a fact.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Maybe The Fall could be the first to get a bigger room?

    I think it’ll happen eventually, though probably not this time. We’re going to have to figure out a way to determine beforehand if we’re going to be slammed and the formula for that has been mighty elusive.

  16. Ken Hanke

    It’s as though Dalí had added flamingos to “The Persistence of Memory”, thus taking the piece beyond surrealism to randomness.

    An interesting observation and one that I can see might have merit, though I think we’d have to get down to it on an almost shot-by-shot basis to have such a discussion. On one viewing, I’m sticking to silence on this beyond a rock solid “maybe.”

  17. Ken Hanke

    from what I’ve read he filmed it all on location without using any CGI or green screens

    All on location I can believe. No CGI…I’m very sketptical of that, though that is not a criticism, since in itself bitching about the use of CGI in and of itself is as meaningless as complaining about color, widescreen or even the fact that a movie is a talkie. Depends on the CGI and how it’s used.

  18. davidf

    “CGI in and of itself is as meaningless as complaining about color, widescreen or even the fact that a movie is a talkie. Depends on the CGI and how it’s used”

    I agree.
    I enjoy a lack of computer visual effects not as a denial of the value of CGI, but because of how that fact works functions in relation to the movie’s themes.

  19. Erik Harrison

    Another reason to regret having moved to Virginia, that I’ll miss this showing.

    I had mixed to positive feelings while watching the film, and while I did enjoy it, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t match the high expectations my friends had set.

    Then, in the denouement, a character on screen says something to the effect of “That’s it? That’s the great accomplishment?” and my heart went out to the flick. I was going to accept the film, and it’s storytelling, on it’s own terms, and promptly started the film a second time.

  20. Ken Hanke

    I enjoy a lack of computer visual effects not as a denial of the value of CGI, but because of how that fact works functions in relation to the movie’s themes.

    I’m not sure I understand your statement — or if you’re talking about this movie in particular or all movies in general.

  21. Ken Hanke

    I had mixed to positive feelings while watching the film, and while I did enjoy it, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t match the high expectations my friends had set.

    I think, if anything, I had relatively low expectations — or was at least very guarded — because of how much it had been built up.

  22. davidf

    “I’m not sure I understand your statement—or if you’re talking about this movie in particular or all movies in general.”

    Yeah, typos don’t help. Delete either “works” or “functions” from my original sentence and it makes a little more sense. But I’m just referring to THE FALL. The movie celebrates an earlier style of film-making that made use of untrained stuntmen and didn’t have access to anything like CGI. The lack of computer generated visual effects resonates with this theme for me.

  23. John r

    Just a thought: there seems to be an impression of large attendance for this movie, and suggestions of using a larger theater. How about setting up an informal RSVP for upcoming shows. I realize this will not be completely accurate, but if there is an unusually large response, alternate plans can be made.

  24. Ken Hanke

    The movie celebrates an earlier style of film-making that made use of untrained stuntmen and didn’t have access to anything like CGI. The lack of computer generated visual effects resonates with this theme for me.

    Okay, I can go with that, but to the degree I could understand what Tarsem was saying — the sound on that clip ain’t great and neither are my ears or my computer speakers — I got the impression that he’s saying all the locations are real and that the people are really there, not that there are no computer effects at all. I do suspect that there are some, especially as concerns the monkey and the monkey’s face, the butterfly and a few other things.

  25. davidf

    “I do suspect that there are some, especially as concerns the monkey and the monkey’s face, the butterfly and a few other things.”

    Yeah, I’d like to know for sure on those things, but from other articles and interviews I’ve read, I’ve gotten the impression that the monkey’s face wasn’t manipulated, that was a real elephant swimming in a natural body of water with the real actors, and that was a real butterfly flying on location. Now I want to do a little more research to make sure, though.

  26. Okay, I can go with that, but to the degree I could understand what Tarsem was saying—the sound on that clip ain’t great and neither are my ears or my computer speakers—I got the impression that he’s saying all the locations are real and that the people are really there, not that there are no computer effects at all. I do suspect that there are some, especially as concerns the monkey and the monkey’s face, the butterfly and a few other things.

    There’s a lot of backstory to this film, that we can perhaps get into on Tuesday. However, I believe I read one interview with Tarsem where he would film a commercial in a remote region of the world then stay for a few weeks longer to work on the film.

  27. Ken Hanke

    Just a thought: there seems to be an impression of large attendance for this movie, and suggestions of using a larger theater. How about setting up an informal RSVP for upcoming shows.

    The idea is excellent. The problem with it is that it’s obvious that a lot of the audience doesn’t read the online edition. When we get the mailing list situation under control — and we’re close to that — this might be doable.

  28. Ken Hanke

    I’ve gotten the impression that the monkey’s face wasn’t manipulated, that was a real elephant swimming in a natural body of water with the real actors, and that was a real butterfly flying on location.

    The monkey looks manipulated on several occasions to me, but I could be wrong. The butterfly does, too. It never occurred to me that the elephant was a CGI effect. If the blood seeping up the white cloth isn’t an effect, I’d love to know how it was done. Not that any of this really matters. Even from the earliest days, the movies “cheated” reality any way they could — though some of this has been clouded by myth (like Harold Lloyd and Fairbanks doing all their own stunts). What matters is the effectiveness of the illusion.

  29. Ken Hanke

    I believe I read one interview with Tarsem where he would film a commercial in a remote region of the world then stay for a few weeks longer to work on the film.

    I can conceive of no other way this could have been done and it be financially possible. It’s not too far removed from what Welles would do on his later films.

  30. kjh.childers

    A very interesting film, Ken!

    Alexandria brought both tears of joy and sadness to my eyes.
    Especially when the little friend of Darwin goes off to catch Americana exotica!

    And, thankfully, the lot of the ‘Blue Bandits’ worked in my view abysmally better than the hideous ‘league of extraordinary gentlemen’. I wish the direction would have utilized Howard Shore for the music / soundtrack, but I ought not complain about what I heard, e.g. Beethoven’s movement.

    Overall – Ken … “The story is depicted from her point of view, which results into its details being drawn from her surroundings and her perception of them. ” … is a clear and sound comment.
    From the adult view, some of the strange happenings with the Blue Bandits early on seemed quite ludicrous, but I see how all is possible with the imagination of a young girl in mind.

  31. Ken Hanke

    First off — seeing it large and with an audience (biggest turnout ever) got it to the five star mark.

    Second, I’m inclined to believe the monkey may be all real. The butterfly, no. The film credits several 2D and 3D compositor artists and colorists, so it’s not CGI free. There are at least two instances of old-fashioned process work. That said, however, it probably has the smallest amount of CG work of any film of this nature in years.

  32. Dread P. Roberts

    That was a great experience, and I’m very glad I was able to take part. Thank you Ken, Justin, and everyone else who was responsible for getting this together.

    The film credits several 2D and 3D compositor artists and colorists, so it’s not CGI free. There are at least two instances of old-fashioned process work. That said, however, it probably has the smallest amount of CG work of any film of this nature in years.

    From what I saw, it appears that the most blatantly obvious use of CGI is the magical tattoo map scene. I’m going to have a hard time believing that scene didn’t use CGI – otherwise that simply used real magic. I think what the director was getting at, is that all of the ‘locations’ are 100% real.

  33. davidf

    “The film credits several 2D and 3D compositor artists and colorists, so it’s not CGI free.”

    After seeing the film again for the first time since reading about the film, it’s clear to me that there was a bit of CGI in there at points. And in there tastefully at that. It was a treat to see it on a larger scale. Thanks.

  34. Ken Hanke

    That was a great experience, and I’m very glad I was able to take part. Thank you Ken, Justin, and everyone else who was responsible for getting this together.

    You are more than welcome. I’m glad you could come. I found it a pretty great experience, too.

    From what I saw, it appears that the most blatantly obvious use of CGI is the magical tattoo map scene. I’m going to have a hard time believing that scene didn’t use CGI – otherwise that simply used real magic.

    Well, it could have been done with lap dissolves, but that would have been incredibly slow, tedious and expensive — and hard to justify.

    I think what the director was getting at, is that all of the ‘locations’ are 100% real.

    That I wouldn’t question, though the film does credit a matte painter, which suggests that the backgrounds of some shots were manipulated.

  35. Dread P. Roberts

    Well, it could have been done with lap dissolves, but that would have been incredibly slow, tedious and expensive—and hard to justify.

    Yes, but what about the under-the-skin ‘footsteps’ of sorts, representing the path of the travelers. Any thoughts on how else that might’ve been done? Surely not stop motion – that just seems a little silly in context.

    That I wouldn’t question, though the film does credit a matte painter, which suggests that the backgrounds of some shots were manipulated.

    I am a little curious if there really is a ‘blue’ city, or if there was some painting (perhaps digital?) involved.

  36. Ken Hanke

    It was a treat to see it on a larger scale. Thanks

    You, too, are welcome. Seeing it larger and with an audience — a good, savvy audience — definitely increased my enjoyment.

  37. Ken Hanke

    Yes, but what about the under-the-skin ‘footsteps’ of sorts, representing the path of the travelers. Any thoughts on how else that might’ve been done? Surely not stop motion – that just seems a little silly in context.

    Not without watching it again and seeing how the shots were broken down. If anything other than CGI it would probably involved running something under a latex “skin” (see Wm. Hurt’s arm ripple in Altered States). Stop-frame would be very unlikely indeed.

    I am a little curious if there really is a ‘blue’ city, or if there was some painting (perhaps digital?) involved.

    One of our members is very well-traveled and I suspect she could answer that question. She had been to several of the locations. It occurred to me that it seems very likely that Tarsem wrote the story to locations he already knew of.

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