Storytelling and Interpretation

I just watched the film The Fall. It mysteriously arrived in my mailbox in one of the regularly received red Netflix envelopes, even though I don’t have any recollection of adding it to my ‘Flix queue. (To be honest, this isn’t at all as mysterious as I it sounds. I’ve come to accept the fact that my memory is pretty much shot. Hell, I’ve come up with amazing ideas and innovations only to share them with Rhea and be told I said the same thing months before. Now that I think about it, half the films I get from Netflix are a total surprise when I actually open them up.)

In a formal way, the film is about understanding and misunderstanding and frustrations found within communication. The young protagonist, Alexandria, spends significant portions of the film asking questions and chirping “Why”. The film, without giving too much away is a man in a hospital telling a story to a young girl. The story weaves into the fantastic in a way that would fit alongside the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the version to which Mr. Alan Moore has actually kept his name attached). A cadre of men has all vowed to kill the evil Governor Odious for the various wrongs he has committed. This group includes:

A Masked Bandit
The Indian
The Mystic
Charles Darwin
The Escaped Slave

As the patient tells his story, he extrapolates the details that intrigue young Alexandria, telling the story he senses she wants to hear: Oops, I thought she liked pirate stories. No? Well, in that case, one of the protagonists can’t even swim.

At the same time, the film primarily shows us the story being told as Alexandria imagines it. There are occasional miscues from the patient’s story. The “Indian” and his squaw are interpreted as from the country of India. The Masked Bandit initially resembles the girl’s late-father (his dialect quickly changes as the patient adjusts to the girl’s emotional needs).

Visually, the film is stunning. I remember being excited to see The Cell because of its unique visual texture. I was completely disappointed. Here, director Tarsem knocks it out of the park. Rich but not decadent, the film feels like reasonable journey into the abstraction of childhood imagination.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think about how this reaffirms my belief in storytelling as an underused teaching strategy. It also reminds me of the potential misinterpretations that come from stories. Ultimately these are just as dynamic and powerful as intended explication.

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