“Los Angeles: once upon a time.” From the moment it begins, The Fall sets the stage for a fairytale; we expect beauty, magic, and wonder—and The Fall delivers. What begins as an unlikely friendship between an injured five-year-old girl and a paraplegic young Hollywood stunt man, transforms into an epic tale of love and loss, as well as life and death. Filmed over a period of four years in eighteen different countries, rich with metaphor and sparkling with vivid imagery, The Fall is not only visually stunning, but also intensely emotional.
The opening scene is shot in pristine black and white: we are on a movie set, though the camera is not rolling. On a railway bridge over the river, dozens of men are toiling and tugging to pull a horse out of the water—its body broken and its form lifeless. The image of the horse, broken by a great fall, resonates throughout the entire film. But the horse wasn’t the only one to fall: the young stuntman, Roy (Lee Pace), injured his spine attempting the stunt, and is not able to use his legs. Alone and confined to a hospital bed, Roy is frustrated and depressed, and his body is not the only part of him that is broken—he suffers from a broken heart as well. When five-year-old Alexandria (Catinca Untaru)—who broke her arm when she fell in the orange grove—wanders into Roy’s hospital room, she is as in need of a friend as Roy is. Once Roy begins to tell her stories, Alexandria is more than happy to listen. Through these stories we are transported to the surreal and dreamlike landscape of the imagination, and Alexandria continues to come back for more. Then Roy sets out to tell her an “epic” story of his own invention; in this epic, five characters set out on a quest together to see revenge on a common enemy: the evil Governor Odious. While each cause seems justified (though certainly to varying degrees), it is clear that each character is hurting and angry, and has been separated from his home and those whom he loves. As Roy’s epic unfolds, we begin to see parallels of his own experiences and suffering interwoven with his narrative.
Alexandria visits Roy every day to hear more of his epic tale. Before one of her visits, she sneaks into the hospital’s chapel and steals the Eucharist, thinking it is a snack. When she brings it to Roy, he asks her: “Are you trying to save my soul?” It is a telling moment of foreshadowing because of course, without knowing it, she is. As the epic continues, Alexandria begins to share her own imagination with Roy—giving her own input on who the characters are and what is happening in the tale. It becomes their story instead of just his; and as it progresses, the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly blurred.
Unfortunately, Roy has a darker purpose than mere storytelling on his mind. Bent on his own suicide, he uses his friendship with Alexandria—and the promise of the next piece of the epic tale—to convince her to steal additional medication for him: morphine. When he takes an overdose, Alexandria immediately inserts herself into his story, and her character miraculously comes to the rescue of Roy’s character and his companions. (When Roy wakes the next morning to find himself not dead, he is rather put out). The sweet girl sees her friend’s distress, and is bent on getting more medicine for him (“to help him sleep”). Determined to help her friend, she climbs up the high shelves to reach the medicine—and then she falls. Alexandria is badly injured, and when she finally wakes up, Roy is at her side. When she asks him for the next piece of the epic, he insists that he is not a good friend to her and that she should ask someone else to finish the story. Of course Alexandria absolutely refuses to accept that, and as the epic proceeds, her character remains in it. The tale turns to tragedy as Roy’s thoughts continue to darken, but as characters begin to lose the fight and give up on life, Alexandria insists that they endure and fight back.
Alexandria: “Why are you killing everybody? Why are you making everybody die?”
Roy: “It’s my story.”
Alexandria: “Mine too.”
We all fall at times; we struggle with sin, we suffer misfortunes, we lose people we love. The fallen world we live in is a tough place, but the important thing to remember is that there is always someone to help pick us up. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us we can cast all our cares and anxieties on Jesus, and there are a number of examples in the New Testament of Jesus helping people up when they have fallen. The first that comes to mind is Peter walking to Jesus on the water: “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.” (Matthew 14:30-31) The second is the account of the woman who was caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); once the Pharisees have dragged her out into the street and accused her, Jesus says to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” After the accusers have dispersed, “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Who has condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’’ While it is important to remember that we can always rely on God to pick us up when we fall, we should also remember that we are to be there to help one another. The friendship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament is a wonderful example: “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16) There are so many lessons and spiritual applications to be found in The Fall, but what struck me the most is how interconnected we all are, no matter how isolated and alone we may feel. We need people in our lives who will not only help pick us up when we fall, but will point us to our Savior and help us find strength in Him.
There are so many brilliant things in this film: the writing, the art direction, the costume design, the cinematography, the sweeping landscapes—it is all expertly and superbly handled. In addition to all of that, I love the clever contrast set up between the characters’ actual situation—confined to a single and un-picturesque hospital building—to the world they create with their imaginations: a fantastic and expansive landscape with endless possibilities.
Five stars and a must-see! If you haven’t seen it, you can check out the trailer here: