I have one regret about seeing The Fall: I waited too long, and so I caught it late in its run at the miserable Beverly Center, and the morons who staff the place started the movie about ten minutes early - whereas I showed up on time. So I missed the first few minutes of this thing, which is a real bummer, because (as I found out later) these opening moments provide lots of information that never gets repeated, yet informs much of the film to follow.
In case you yourself come in late, the film is set in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s. A stunt man (Lee Pace) has fallen off a horse while trying to impress his girlfriend, and is paralyzed from the waist down. The girlfriend has since broken his heart by running off with the film's leading man. Meanwhile, a poor Romanian 5-year-old (the adorable and hilarious Catinca Untaru) has entered the hospital with a broken arm she suffered while picking oranges nearby. The two become unlikely friends as the stunt man tells her wild stories about a group of heroes banding together to defeat an evil villain.
What starts off as a combination of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The English Patient, and The Princess Bride (though this film is actually based on an obscure 1981 feature from Bulgaria called Yo Ho Ho) turns darker as we learn about the stuntman's suicidal desires. What keeps the film alive is its remarkable surrealist imagery.
Tarsem, best known for his music videos such as the award-winning "Losing My Religion" for R.E.M., as well as for his critically blasted (but still interesting) Jennifer Lopez thriller The Cell, lets his extravagant visual senses run free here. The results are spectacular sets filmed around the world (though mostly in India), Eiko Ishioka's eye-popping costumes, super saturated colors, more than a few lingering shots of muscular men, and the heartbreaking story between the hopeless stunt man and his plucky young friend.
I realize that a lot of people don't like The Fall, and admittedly it's a strange bird: an R-rated, violence-filled art film that somehow still seems like it was made for children. But I found it a thrill, both visually and emotionally. And even if I can't quite connect the lovely epilogue to everything that preceded it (possibly because I missed those few crucial opening minutes), I still highly recommend this movie to anybody who loves Baraka, the aforementioned Munchausen, or even the paintings of Salvador Dali. (Tarsem's been known to steal his ideas, but as I've said before - he steals from the best.)
The Fall will be an amazing experience for some, as it was for me, and it's surely destined to become a cult hit, but I advise you to see it on the big screen if you can.