Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The Fall -- assisted suicide
Director: Tarsem Singh, 2008.
The Fall is a stunning, visual feast, a phantasmagoria of colors. And what colors they are! Vivid vibrant skies of blue. Desert sands of bright orange. Sheets turning blood-red. Oceans so clear and pristine and turquoise that it's hard to believe that the film was shot entirely on location (across 28 countries and four years), with no computer generated images.
Tarsem (he has dropped his last name) has brought to the screen a dreamy stylistic movie that is to film what Picasso or Salvador Dali was to painting. Surreal and fantastic, The Fall is full of unlikely and unreal characters and creatures, from swimming elephants to smart monkeys, from shamans to Charles Darwin. This is a gorgeous movie, one that is unique. Perhaps the closest movie in stylism I have seen recently was The Fountain that played with fantasy and merging storylines across time.
As the film opens, the subtitle reads "Once upon a time." This is clearly a fairy tale, but an adult one with mature themes. Set around 1915, the era of silent movies, stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) lies paralyzed and depressed in a Los Angeles hospital. His body is broken from a crazy leap from a bridge while filming an impossible stunt. His heart is broken by the actress girlfriend who left him for the leading man. His hope is gone.
Enter adorable Alexandria (Romanian Catinca Untaru in her debut role). She is a 5 year-old East European in the same hospital with a broken arm in a cast. Wandering the halls of the hospital she comes across Roy and forms an immediate friendship. He begins to tell her a story. With his words and through her imagination, we see the story come to life in front of our eyes.
The story Roy tells is an epic tale of revenge. Five men from different lands and backgrounds are exiled to a remote tropical island by the evil Governor Odious. When they escape by riding on swimming elephants, it is clear that realism is subverted and imagination is highlighted. They embark on a quest to avenge their losses.
Roy tells his story in segments, chapters, and populates his tale with the people around him, much like the classic The Wizard of Oz. In between, Alexandria roams freely inside and outside the hospital.
When she brings him a Eucharistic wafer she stole from the chapel, Roy asks her, "Are you trying to save my soul?" Alexandria does not understand, but Roy realizes that she can save him in another way. As he leads her into this beautiful story, he uses the segment-breaks as teasers and tells her she must get him some morphine to help him "sleep" before he will continue. She thus embarks on her quest to get the desired medicine.
Like another fairy tale, The Princess Bride, this film uses the story within a story vehicle. But here both stories are related, actually inter-related. As reality and fantasy blend, the bright and hopeful story turns dark. At one point, Roy tells Alexandria, "There's no happy ending." How can a fairy tale not have a happy ending?
Toward the end, the 5 heroes in the tale start dying even as Roy is dying. This is tough for young Alexandria, and crying she asks, "Why are you making everyone die?" This does not make sense for a 5 year-old. Stories for kids just don't do this.
The Fall focuses on several falls. Roy's fall puts him in the position to need Alexandria. Her fall leaves her in the hospital with the need to combat boredom. Another fall forces characters to turn from fantasy to face reality. And perhaps there is even some passing reference to the fall of mankind, that leaves us all in a state of sin, a state where we need salvation.
Indeed, salvation is one of the ethical and theological topics raised in this film. With a noticeable prevalence of crucifixes, there is an almost subliminal focus on Christian religion. Roy's recognition of the Eucharist wafer and his question underscore his need for salvation. Salvation comes from outside not within. We must reach out for true salvation and receive it as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). But in his dark and depressed mood, he is unwilling to move toward God and life; he only wants death. He seeks a different salvation; he seeks salvation in a pharmacy bottle, like many even today.
Moreover, Roy is in some ways a lot like God. He is the creator of his story, crafting it in the fashion he wants. God, too, is in the process of crafting his story; we call it history. As creator, he formed all that there is and he has a storyline, a plot. We know the broad brushstroke outline from the Bible. But we still live it, as our reality and God's "fantasy" merge for us.
A final, and perhaps the most direct, issue is that of assisted suicide. As Roy tricks Alexandria into raiding the infirmary, he is asking her to unwittingly and unwillingly assist in his own death. Surely if she knew the truth she would not do it. Suicide is the taking of a life, one's own life, and as such seems to be a sin akin to murder. This is a life created by God for his purposes and pleasures, and is not ours to take. Regardless, suicide is a clear sign of loss of hope. To kill oneself is one thing. To have someone else assist knowingly is another; it is an ethical issue that is controversial. Some states of the union permit this, others do not. To have someone else assist unknowingly is certainly manipulative and unethical.
Despite the darkness of the end of the story, there is some light in the darkness. The Fall ends with some hope and there is a blessing in disguise. Sometimes accidents that seem horrible, even tragic, can indeed turn out to be the blessings we really need.
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM