The Fall (2006)
In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story of five mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality blurs as the tale advances.
At a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s, Alexandria is a child recovering from a broken arm. She befriends Roy Walker, a movie stunt man with legs paralyzed after a fall. At her request, Roy tells her an elaborate story about six men of widely varied backgrounds who are on a quest to kill a corrupt provincial governor. Between chapters of the story, Roy inveigles Alexandria to scout the hospital's pharmacy for morphine. As Roy's fantastic tale nears its end, Death seems close at hand.
In the beginning of the Twentieth Century, in the pediatric wing of a hospital in Los Angeles, the talkative girl Alexandria is recovering from a broken arm. Alexandria works with her family of immigrants in the harvest of oranges and she has just lost her father. When she meets the injured stuntman Roy Walker recovering from a fall and also brokenhearted with the loss of his girlfriend to the lead actor, he begins to tell a fantastic tale about six heroes and their common enemy, the hideous Governor Odious. Black Bandit who has lost his brother Blue Bandit who was killed by Odious' men; the explosives expert Luigi who was cast out of his town by Odious; the Indian who lost his gorgeous wife who was abducted by Odious; the former slave Otta Benga who lost his twin brother in the fields of Odious; Charles Darwin who receives a rare butterfly of the species Americana Exotica killed by Odious; and a Mystic who hates Odious for having destroyed the fauna and flora of his lands, join forces to defeat the evil Odious. While Alexandria imagines the story projecting the images of her acquaintances on the characters, the heartsick Roy uses her innocence to ask the girl to steal morphine and medicines from the dispensary for him to commit suicide.
While young Alexandria is recuperating from a fractured arm in a Los Angeles Hospital, she befriends another patient, Roy Walker, who tells a variety of tales, including one about Emperor Alexander, and the second story of six men: Luigi - an explosions expert; a Native American Indian; A runaway slave; an East Indian swordsman; a masked bandit; and Charles Darwin - all on a quest to kill oppressive Spanish Governor Odious for individually inflicting atrocities on each and every one of them. She soon becomes embroiled in this tale and starts mixing fiction with reality not realizing that Roy is using her to procure a drug for him.
- The movie opens on a black and white rendering of a 1920s silent film production, where there is some shouting and chaos following an accident with a stunt on a bridge. A dead horse is raised by pulley from the water below.
At a rehabilitation hospital near Los Angeles, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a cherubic 5-year-old girl of Romanian descent, wanders the grounds. Her arm is suspended and she wears a quarter-body cast; later we learn this is the result of an accident in the orange grove where she and her immigrant family work. She is working on a note in her room upstairs, on a piece of doily-type paper she has created, and she drops it below to Nurse Evelyn (Justine Waddell), with whom there seems to be shared affection. The note floats instead into a downstairs room, and when Alexandria is roaming the halls, she sees it is being read by another patient, Roy (Lee Pace). Roy is a Hollywood stunt man who is paralyzed from the waist down. He's confined to a bed, with a bedside commode, and little to do. He is also pining over an unrequited love for a film actress, who is now involved with the leading man from the film where Roy was stunt double.
Roy asks who Alexandria is, tells her the note does not make sense, light-heartedly questioning whether it is even in English, and Alexandria nabs the note back and scurries away. Roy wants to hold her attention. Upon learning her name is Alexandria, Roy tells her a story to capture her imagination, about Alexander the Great (who he says she is named after). He says Alexander is also awaiting a message. Alexandria imagines a centurion wandering a castle grounds with a horse, but when Roy tells her that Alexander is without his horse and lost in a desert, Alexandria re-imagines the story with Alexander among soldiers with parched lips, awaiting another soldier. The messenger arrives and tells Alexander all is lost because of his lust for water, and that the only water that remains is in a helmet that this soldier holds. Alexander pours the water from the helmet into the sand, and Alexandria protests "Why?" Roy tries to explain it in westernized terms, but it does not make sense to Alexandria. The doctors come, and Roy tells Alexandria to come back the next day, so he can tell her an epic story about India.
The next day, they start a give-and-take relationship; where he regales her with stories so that she will steal morphine pills for him. We learn that Alexandria is very close to Nurse Evelyn, who comforts her when she is scared, and has a special understanding of the girl and her sense of whimsy. Nurse Evelyn is a nun, but she is having an affair with the lead doctor in the children's area of the hospital. We also see the area where x-rays are taken. There are frightful men in full lead uniforms and cast-iron masks (seemingly shielding them from dangerous radiation exposure) taking the x-rays; these strangely outfitted men scare Alexandria.
On the first day, as Alexandria arrives, Roy is visited by another actor/stunt double (Robin Smith), who famously lost his lower leg and walks with a peg leg. He urges Roy to accept a settlement from the studio. He scolds Roy for doing the stunt and falling hard for the lead actress on the film, who he was trying to impress with the stunt. He says that Roy, as a college-educated man, deserves a better life.
Roy's story starts with a Hindi man swimming to a small island to report back to four other prisoners that the brother of one of them is set for execution. (This tale makes up most of the story of the movie.) The prisoners are united by a hatred of Governor Odious, on whom they have sworn revenge. Governor Odious has imprisoned them on the island to humiliate them, and Roy introduces them one by one. The first is a slave named Otta Benga, who Alexandria's imagination embodies as a friendly ice-delivery man from the hospital. He was one of Governor Odious's slaves, but when his brother died in the heat, he rebelled, led an uprising, and swore revenge on Governor Odious.
The second prisoner is the Hindi swimmer, called the Indian, who Alexandria imagines as a friendly man from her home orange grove. He was a man of means who married the most beautiful woman in the land, but when Governor Odious fell in love with the woman and kidnapped her, leading to her suicide, he swore revenge on Governor Odious.
The third is Luigi, a munitions expert, who Alexandria imagines as the peg-legged stunt double who visited Roy earlier. He was exiled because Governor Odious feared him. Upon returning, Luigi was shunned by everyone he knew, as well as his church, at Odious's insistence. He similarly swears revenge.
The fourth is Charles Darwin. (Yes, that Charles Darwin. He is described by Roy as the famous English naturalist.) Darwin had sought a rare butterfly named Americanus Exoticus. Governor Odious mocked him by sending one of the butterflies of this species dead, thumbtacked inside a box, and as a result, Darwin swears revenge on Odious.
The last prisoner introduced, the tale's main character, is the Black Bandit, who is embodied, at Roy's insistence, by Alexandria's father. Alexandria later confesses that her father has perished in an attack on her house by angry people (thieves who burnt down the house and stole the family's horses). Thereafter, she imagines Roy in this role. The Black Bandit is the one whose twin brother, the Blue Bandit, is set for execution. He and his brother were captured and condemned by Governor Odious, but Roy escaped. Now, he is intent on escaping the island, but he cannot swim. Darwin consults with his monkey, realizes elephants can swim and are indigenous to the region, and they convince an elephant to swim to the island and carry the Black Bandit to the shore, so all the prisoners escape together. Once on shore, they are ready to seek out and kill Odious, as well as rescue the Black Bandit's brother. Out of a smoky tree emerges a charred-appearing holy man in a loincloth, who Roy refers to as the Mystic. The Mystic represents indigenous people, who swear revenge on Governor Odious for destroying their land. The prisoners storm the castle where the Black Bandit's brother is held. It is the Mystic whose magical powers defeat the great number of guards. However, they are too late: the Blue Bandit has been tortured and killed.
Alexandria is rapturous over the tremendous tale, in all its detail and grandeur, but Roy interrupts the story to have her check his toes, to see if he is completely paralyzed. He is, but she does not tell him. There is a ruckus in the room, involving Roy's doctor, another patient in the room, a wealthy hypochondriac who has only imagined his illness, and an elderly man with dentures who plays affectionately with Alexandria. The hypochondriac thinks Roy is telling disturbing tales to Alexandria and tells the doctor to make him stop scaring her.
When the tale continues, the Black Bandit takes an oath of revenge and they go in search of Governor Odious. Roy tells Alexandria he cannot sleep. He says he cannot remember the story unless she can go to the hospital infirmary and get him morphine. When he resumes the story, he tells her about the way the travelers look for Governor Odious using a map that Darwin unwisely placed in a box with bug specimens; the bugs have been eating the map, and the directions to the castle are obscured. (The map, as she imagines it, is also on one of Alexandria's doily papers). Here starts a fascinating part of the film where the Mystic swallows the map, said to be poisonous, then leads the team deep into a part of the desert where there is a jungle. Other indigenous people dance over the Mystic's poison-weakened body, and a tattooed map appears on his trunk that Darwin sketches on his pad. This is how they find their way to the next leg of the journey. They ultimately come to a caravan flying Odious's flag and pulled by slaves. At Otta Benga's insistence, they free the slaves and surround the carriage, but the only ones to emerge are a Princess and a child (said to be her nephew). They capture the Princess, whom Alexandria imagines as Nurse Evelyn.
Roy now asks Alexandria to steal medicines from the wealthy patient's locked bedside cabinet and give them to him. He says he will tell more of the story, but then when he falls asleep, she has to leave, and not come back the next day. He expects to be dead.
The Black Bandit, now envisioned as Roy in Alexandria's mind, falls for the Princess, and she is discovered to be the fiancée of Governor Odious (just as Roy's previous girlfriend, the actress, becomes involved with the lead actor, the villain in the world outside the fantasy tale). Roy and the others plan to execute her for treason, but when the Black Bandit shoots her and she does not die, they discover that the locket around her neck caught the bullet. This opened the locket, which now reveals a message for her: she must not marry for power or riches, but only to follow her heart in love. She and the Black Bandit are subsequently married. Unfortunately, it is a trap, and the church fills with henchmen (always envisioned as men dressed like the x-ray technicians: giant cast-iron masks and lead suits, growling like dogs). The travelers are all chained in the desert, left to die, but rescued at the last minute by a young girl who was in one of their traveling packs all along. (It is Alexandria, wearing a Black Bandit costume). Alexandria encourages the telling of this part of the tale, just as Roy passes out.
Roy is suicidal; he is trying to overdose on the hypochondriac's medicine. The next day, Alexandria is shocked to find a stretcher with a deceased patient, who she thinks is Roy. Instead, it is the old man with the dentures. Alexandria is overjoyed to see Roy in his bed, but Roy is devastated. He realizes the wealthy patient's pills were sugar pills (placebos) and shouts "There is nothing wrong with you!" Roy has to be restrained.
Unfortunately, Alexandria is at a point in the tale where the suspense is too much. She cannot be consoled upstairs by Nurse Evelyn. She sneaks out to steal morphine, hoping to convince Roy to tell her more of the story, but she slips on a shelf and suffers terrible head trauma. There is a horror sequence where her father's death, her fears of the hospital, and other childhood fantasies take over. Roy is there, drunk, as she recovers. Roy has been scolded for making her steal medicines for him. He is tender with her, but can't tell the tale to a child's level because he is so distraught. All of the main characters of the tale die in different, awful ways pursuing Governor Odious, and Alexandria protests that Roy should not make them die.
Finally, the Black Bandit and the young girl who is Alexandria in the tale reach the grounds of the castle where they find Odious, imagined as the silent film's lead actor. Roy does not put up much of a fight. Roy tells Alexandria that he cannot, because he is weak, and he had his fingers crossed during his oath to avenge his brother. Alexandria keeps begging him, and then makes Roy swear to let the Black Bandit live. Roy promises (ultimately, it seems, promising to not commit suicide and give up on his own life). He is drowning in the pool of Governor Odious's palace in the story he is telling, paralyzed and unable to rise just as Roy is paralyzed in real life. But Alexandria asks to see his hands to make sure his fingers are not crossed, and when he raises his hands, the Black Bandit in the tale regains the strength to punch Odious and rescue himself. Odious ultimately stumbles back onto his own sword and kills himself. The Princess tells Roy he has passed the test, but Roy in real life and in the tale resolves to see the world through less romanticized terms, and, with Alexandria, is resigned to life's foibles and ready to move on past believing the Princess will love him. (The film's director, Tarsem Singh, has said the film came from a period of despair in his own life after the loss of his girlfriend.)
The movie closes with Roy and Alexandria watching the silent movie together where Roy was injured. Alexandria narrates that she returned to her family and the orange groves safely, and misses Roy, but that her mother told her he is fine and in movies, and whenever she sees a silent movie with stunts, she will know he is there. The conclusion is a montage of many silent movies, including those of Harold Lloyd, when stuntmen performed incredible acts of bravery without the precautions of modern times.