Frame stories are tricky business. I know because I recently finished working on one, and it’s probably the hardest novel I’ve ever tried to write. This is especially true when the story within has a completely different voice than the frame story itself, as was the case with me… because I like to torture myself or something.
The most famous frame story is, of course, Arabian Nights. But struggling through my own version of one reminded me of the best frame story I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. It was… timeless, gorgeous, perfect, elegant. There are not enough words, I swear. What I fail to adequately praise is Tarsem Singh’s magnum opus The Fall.
I could go on for pages about all the reasons I love this film. The two stories in the film mirror each other in the most beautiful way: not too blatant, not too subtle. The visuals are beyond stunning, the settings are breathtaking, the actors are brilliant, and the little star is completely adorable AND natural (which is not an easy thing to achieve with child actors). For me, though, the most incredible thing about this film is the way the story within the story is composed not just by the teller, but by the listener as well.
I mentioned that I believe every story has multiple creators in this post, and The Fall uses the idea in such a masterful way. One of the most obvious examples of co-creation in the film is the Indian character. Because he is a stunt man from silent cinema, the storyteller creates characters familiar to him, one of which is called “the Indian.” It’s clear the storyteller’s intention is to have a stereotypical, cowboys-and-Indians character in his story. But the child, the listener, is familiar with people from India, so she imagines a true Indian. And we have this beautiful misunderstanding between the storyteller and his audience. While we hear the storyteller’s intentions, we also get to see the little girl’s interpretation on screen.
I now own the film and show it to pretty much everyone who will humor me. I recommend you see it, especially if you appreciate storytelling in any form. While you’re watching it, keep in mind the way the two stories merge, and the way the listener colors her interpretation with her own experiences. We all do this. We breathe life into ink on paper. We make worlds and people and magic out of nothing, and we do it collectively, together. It’s kind of a warm, fuzzy feeling if you think about it. So you should—think about it, I mean.
And you should watch The Fall, if only because Lee Pace is the living end. You won’t regret it.