Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Fall (2006)

Tarsem Singh (or simply "Tarsem" over the last few years) has directed only two pictures since 2000--and that first one was The Cell, a movie whose plot matters infinitely less than the terrible beauty of its images and the astounding commitment of Vincent D'Onofrio to the persona he crafts, like some alternate-universe lead in an opera written by H.P. Lovecraft.

With The Fall, Tarsem does not flinch under the threat of his earlier picture, but decides to edge closer to Tim Burton than David Lynch as he explores the most needful thing of all: the yearning for narrative, for life to lose its messy edge and follow a straight line for once. The injured silent-era stuntman and the little girl with the broken arm collaborate on the same story--but to different ends. Of course, the story has its own ideas, and draws everyone in (and here we should turn and give a little bow to Terry Gilliam, who knows more than any of us the value of a ripping yarn-within-a-yarn-within-a-yarn-within ...)--and Tarsem follows the fairytale, building an almost-satiric Wonderland of Extraordinary Gentlemen (including Alexander the Great and Darwin) in a world that Tarsem swears is real--all actual locations, no special effects. If he's telling us the truth, then we really do live in a story, no matter how duplicitous the storyteller/Black Bandit may be, no matter how dangerous the stunts actually are.

This is not a film for everyone. Some might find it too weird, others to obvious. But if you look closely and long, and listen to one more story, you'll be reminded of the real draw of the movies--and of paintings and ballads and bedtime tales: They pretend to be windows we can look out of, but are really special mirrors for seeing ourselves and the important things still living behind us.

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