One of my personal rules about the movies: the greater the hype, the bigger the flop.
When the movie’s stars appear ubiquitously on TV talk shows (gabbing about how much “fun” they had making the movie, rather than how good it is) you can be sure the buildup is intended to draw box office business that can’t be sustained once reviews appear.
While the hype-the-flop rule can help you avoid some painful movie experiences, it’s just as easy for quiet treasures to go unnoticed. The Fall is a jewel that almost slipped past me. It may be the best movie you never heard about.
Imagined for 17 years and filmed in 18 locations around the world over four years, this stunning visual treat is the result of director Tarsem Singh’s obsession. He even paid for the production out of his own pocket.
Search this film out, and be amazed by sights you’ve never seen before—soldiers zigzagging on Escher-like staircases, an elephant swimming underwater, a blue city—all real. No matte drawings. No computer graphics. Merely Tarsem’s vision, some great location scouting, and the magic that happens when a shot is framed just so.
The colors in this movie are as extravagant as the settings. Watch to see how carefully Tarsem places bursts of color in a frame.
The story starts in a Los Angeles hospital where Alexandria, recovering from a broken arm, meets Roy, a silent movie era stuntman with broken legs and a broken heart.
“I’ll tell you a story,” he says to her. “Close your eyes. There were five of them. The Indian…” Injured while making a cowboy movie, Roy intends “Native American.” But the little girl is Romanian and doesn’t understand the word as he does. She imagines a man in a turban.
As the fantasy story within a story unfolds, we hear Roy’s words, but we see it through Alexandria’s eyes. She understands something very different from what he’s saying. We witness the story through the lens of her experiences, and we see how the images and people she’s familiar with feed her imagination. Alexandria even takes herself into the story when she thinks Roy has lost control of it.
The Fall is much more than a delicious visual spectacle, it’s about the relationship between the storyteller and the one who hears it. It’s about any art and the eye, mind, and heart of the beholder. It’s an ode to imagination.
I wasn’t quite sure about what happened at the end, and I think Tarsem meant the film to be subtly ambiguous, leaving the moviegoer to tie up a loose end herself. After all, the teller isn’t the only who creates the tale.
A version of this post appeared originally on Eric Maisel Creativity Central