Published Feb 08, 2021"I'm sorry that I brought you into this world so you could die."
A father whispering that to his son is the first signpost of trouble to come in Falling, the new film from Viggo Mortensen as writer and director. A mostly prosaic recollection of 1950s simplicity is given a dark current, one that reverberates in the present, where the father, played by Lance Henricksen, is struggling with dementia as his son, Mortensen, copes not only with this but also with decades of his dad's toxic behaviour.
Willis (Henricksen) is coming in from his farm to look for homes closer to his son John (Mortensen) and the rest of the family. An already fraught process is made more difficult by what the aged patriarch is going through. On a flight with John, at a family dinner, or in a moment of quiet reflection, details send him to other points in time — a baby cooing moving into ducks quacking, water poured into a glass flowing into water in a babbling creek.
If parts of that sound serene or at peace, the impact of these scenes is anything but. The trips to the past unpack what, for John and others, are a collective trauma. Willis is a harsh man, who drove away those close to him. Those who experience it, like John or his sister (played in a scene by Laura Linney), are left figuring out how to cope and how to handle their father in the present.
As illustrated with some adventurous editing, the past is the fuel for their present hurt. Blips of memory crop up, while simple scenes in the here and now are inescapable. There's no friction in the modern day that can be glossed over, no discomfort the filmmakers don't want you to experience in real time.
The progression of time and Willis's own condition has only served to blunt his worst behaviours. His attitudes towards women haven't gotten any better; he uses the word "whore" like someone trying to reach a quota at the last minute. When the camera picks up Shepard Fairey's Obama "Hope" image on John's fridge, it isn't a matter of if Willis will make an off-colour remark but of which one.
Henricksen performance is compelling, and not only because his voice only gains greater character year after year. Although Mortensen's character has some notable moments, the experience of Falling is really with Henricksen, in a life with few lessons learned, with only moments of fleeting harmony, scored by Mortensen himself (who channels Terence Blanchard in parts).
Mortensen's directorial debut is filled with unrelenting unpleasantness. He's chosen a man with inconsistent connections to time and memory, oftentimes just hate, resentment, and hurt launched out at whoever's closest. That he finds empathy for the man and his coming end is a credit to Mortensen's filmmaking curiosity and Henricksen's own skills as an actor. (Mongrel Media)