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FALLING shows us the importance of love and life
Unfortunately, Alzheimers and dementia are something many of us have first-hand experience with, and too few films have shown the hardships people experience during that in-between period where our loved ones still recognize us but have moments where they’re taken back to the past or become disorients. Falling, the directorial debut of Viggo Mortensen, digs deep to show viewers the often painful process of our loved ones’ minds fragmenting in this poignant film.
Mortensen delivers in a big way, possibly because he’s perfected the trifecta of directing, writing and starring in the film to let viewers into the mind of someone experiencing dementia. We’re taken through the storyline via a series of flashbacks and present-day events, but these time jumps are never jarring. Instead, viewers begin to feel slightly disoriented due to these jumps, eagerly piecing together how the past is influencing what we see in the present--if they’re even connected at all.
Mortensen’s script expertly jumps between the past and the present, focusing on Willis (Lance Henricksen) and John’s (Mortensen) father-son relationship from John’s infanthood to the present. Viewers are instantly clued into Willis’ personality when he talks about the infant’s eventual death, causing the baby to bawl within the first several minutes of the film’s start. We see throughout the film that Willis has a mean streak that runs deep, eventually alienating his loved ones.
While the past is more than adequately explored in the film, the darkest, most powerful moments of the film take place during present-day scenes. Mortensen has been open about his own struggles with caring for loved ones with dementia, and brings the joint frustration and devotion real-life caregivers experience to the screen. There are moments you want to see John protect his husband (Terry Chen) and daughter (Gabby Velis) by dumping his father off somewhere else, especially when Willis starts spitting off hateful rhetoric and slurs, but the devotion runs deep--even with the fractures both in Willis’ mind and his familial relationships being on full display. The film doesn’t dwell in the “love conquers all” narrative commonly seen in films portraying sick relatives; instead, it shows how caregivers are constantly put in difficult situations that they must solve with little to no assistance from the person they’re caring for.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
I very rarely think a film is perfectly cast, but I wouldn’t want anyone else on the screen. Mortensen perfectly encapsulates the frustration one experiences when dealing with family members with dementia while Henriksen and Sverrir Gudnason’s joint performances as Willis show a mean, biggoted man who blames everyone around him for his unhappiness. Chen, Velis, Hannah Gross and Laura Linney give excellent supporting performances as the people touched by Willis, and their reactions to his behavior both in the past and the present.
To say the dialogue can be upsetting is a bit of an understatement. Viewers are exposed to Willis’ crass, rude and mean-spirited humor and remarks, but like John, try to take them in stride in support of a man who is but a shell of his former self. There are times ones feels sympathetic for Willis, even though we see he’s always been a disgraceful individual.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The real standout of the film is the set design. When we’re taken into the 1960s and 70s, we genuinely feel like we’re experiencing “the good old days.” I could practically smell the Peterson’s home--a mixture of cigarette smoke, mothballs and brown carpet--and the characters’ clothing puts you smack dab in the middle of the decades of free love and disco.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The film’s music is poignant and perfectly punctuates what viewers are seeing on the screen. While dramatic films’ scores can sometimes feel melodramatic, there’s no sense of overemphasized drama that pulls you out of the film.
At times a difficult watch and hard to process, Falling truly does show what caregivers experience when caring for someone with dementia. At times offensive, the film doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of attempting to keep one’s cool when faced with a hard situation, although some viewers may feel uncomfortable with the heavy use of slurs. Falling shows us the importance of love and life, with an emphasis on just how precious time can be.