A magnificent avalanche of fertile imagination, cinematic wizardry and, to put it simply, brilliance. Combining many types of film – documentary, short, black comedy, avant garde, epic, fantasy – Peter Greenaway has fashioned a film that is not only a feat of film making, but a genuinely enjoyable experience as well. (One of the most engrossing and satisfying films I’ve seen, all the more impressive for its mammoth length, though not a minute is wasted.) The film explores the lives of 92 survivors of the VUE (Violent Unexplained Event) but to go beyond that would be superfluous, as the joy of this film lies just as much in its structure as its content.
Of the thousands of bits of information we receive about these survivors – including their occupations, hobbies, defects, languages – the two most common side effects of the VUE are the two most important: immortality and the shift in physicality and interest to birds. Plenty of history concerning the human’s longing to fly is injected into the dialogue, from Daedalus and Icarus to the Wright Brothers. But what is more compelling is the false history; the stories, most of which have been proven wrong, or not entirely truthful, by family members, of men throwing themselves from the Eiffel Tower in vein attempts to fly. The implication being that people have always been willing to risk their lives if they see even the slimmest chance of being able to fly. Part of the eternal human struggle has been our feelings of captivity. The fear of being chained to the earth and bound for the grave. The VUE liberates many of its victims from both of these unavoidable human constraints; it liberates them from humanity. In this way The Falls is an inherently human fantasy, a tragedy of the highest regard, because it reaches the hearts and desires of, I can only assume based on the people I know, nearly every person on Earth. Even if it’s subconscious, the need to escape, to change is ingrained in the human mind; dissatisfaction is the human condition.
There is something unsettling, though, in achieving what we want more than everything. Like a dog chasing cars, or a starry eyed girl lusting over her James Dean poster: what would we do if we got our wish? Greenaway does not attempt to provide a definitive answer, nor does he feign profundities, but rather shows what some people might do if the shackles of humanity were lifted from them. One man flies obsessively until a tragic accident leaves him dead. One woman lives simply and celebrates her birthday every year. One woman laments the eventuality of losing touch with her family as she never ages, but grows more distanced from her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Maybe Greenaway wants us to ask ourselves how we would react and what we would do if it happened to us. The Falls consists of 92 case studies, which seems like a massive amount of information to take in, until we are told that this is only a small fraction of the 19 million affected by the VUE. Part of the film’s magic lies in wondering what the other stories hold. And that’s what it comes down to: wonder. I can only wonder what the other 18,999,908 survivors are like; I can only wonder what it’s like to fly; and I can only wonder what it’s like to live forever.