I’ve compared Tarsem’s mixedly-reviewed film The Cell to one of my low budget favorites, Huyck and Katz’s Dead People. (Huyck and Katz would later go on to write Howard The Duck!) Dead People is a movie of strikingly disturbing visuals which fail to be tied together by a plot that is both incomprehensible and banal.
The Cell is similarly full of striking imagery, allegedly in the service of a murder mystery that is so weak, it’s transparently a flimsy excuse for the visuals. It’s the equivalent of the plot in a porn movie.
I wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to see The Fall, therefore, but The Boy picked it and Althouse’s review gave me some hope. In this movie, an East Indian child with a broken arm is being told a story by an injured, heartbroken stuntman whose motivation is to entice the child to get him enough morphine to kill himself.
The story is, as a result, disjointed and internally incoherent–but it works this time for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it works as a reflection of the reality of the main story. The man and the little girl both inform the story with their understanding of each other. This is what actually provides a lot of the tension.
Perhaps the main reason, however, is that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, after all, being told to–and envisioned by–a little girl (as opposed to being the inner workings of a serial killer, as with The Cell) and this allows the costumes to be rather outrageous and colorful, with the expectation that the audience will laugh at certain things.
There is a Princess Bride vibe, as Althouse (and I think Ebert) noted, though the suicide/whimsy combination also evoked for me The Little Prince. In fact, this could be a good kids’ movie, except for the fact that the director needs blood to color some of the scenes (which I don’t consider that big a deal) and for the climax, which features a number of deaths that might be upsetting. (There’s a shot, too, where the little girl is watching two people have sex. We don’t see it; we’re watching her watch it, and we hear the sounds.)
But the “R” rating is harsh, to say the least. I mean, I suppose it’s a little intense, adult theme-y and all that. But the MPAA may have been reflecting on Tarsem’s previous film. They do that sort of thing.
Now, as to the visuals themsselves. I am not, like Althouse, averse to CGI. It can be poorly done, and is, a lot. It can be overdone–and is, a lot. But I love Pixar, the first Jurassic Park and movies like Master and Commander, where it’s hard to tell where the CGI is.
But compare, some time, if you can stand to, the first two (recent) Mummy pictures. Both use CGI by the bucket-load, but the first movie is punctuated by actual landscapes that are quite breathtaking, while the second substitutes CGI almost completely for the real world, to its considerable detriment.
This movie forgoes CGI (almost?) completely for real shots of Giza, The Taj Mahal, China, Turkey and so on (all to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony) and it reminds, painfully almost, how superior reality still is to CGI, in the hands of a competent cinematographer.
Moral of the story being: If you’ve got the money, and you’ve got the chops, step away from the computer and shoot reality.
Edit: I forgot to add that the boy really liked it. He does not suffer fools or foolishness gladly, so this tells me the movie walks the fine line very well indeed.