Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Falling : Viggo Mortensen’s finely nuanced directing/writing debut


Watching a third movie that deals with dementia in as many weeks is kind of a tough call (especially for a critic edging on in years).  First Sir Anthony Hopkins played a cantankerous old man who never let up on his sainted daughter Olivia Colman in The Father. Then competing with them for Best Actor Awards,  came Colin Firth playing one half of a gay married couple with  Stanley Tucci whose gentle character has early onset dementia.  Both of them give career best performances in Supernova a  heartbreaking love story .

Now there is Falling , the very impressive writing /directing debut of actor Viggo Mortensen about a curmudgeonly senile old man who reluctantly has to move in with his gay son and husband.  

The trouble with making any story about dementia, is that we know there is almost no possibility of it finishing on any positive note.  Not just because of the diagnosis but also because of the severe impact it plays on family dynamics.

Mortensen’s story revolves around the embittered misogynist Wallis (brilliantly played by veteran actor Lance Henriksen) who still lives alone on his remote country ranch.  In a series of revealing flashbacks Mortensen (who also plays Willis’s gay son John) shows us a whole history of growing up in  a home constantly filled with his father’s rage.

Occasionally Willis attempts to bond with a somewhat reluctant young John with macho pursuits such as hunting, but his tough-love approach never winds him over.  When his mother finally decides she has enough of the abuse, she leaves taking a greatly relieved 9 year old John and his sister with her.

Willis moved on to other woman who John didn’t take too, and now as an adult he still blames his father for his mother’s early death.

The movie starts with the two man on a plane heading to the house John shares with his husband and daughter in L.A.  as it’s been agreed that Willis is unable to take care of himself anymore. His  bizarre behavior on the  plane when he gets confused is made worse with his unfiltered expletives that take aim at ‘faggots” whores’ and ‘negroes’  et al.  It does not provoke the verbal response from John that he wants, which only inflames the situation, and will continue to do so in all the similar ones that will follow.

Willis insists on calling husband Eric ‘the boyfriend’  (Terry Chen) but at the same time John will not stop for acting as normal which includes kissing his husband in front of him.  

There is an uncomfortable lunch when John’s sister Susan (Laura Linney) comes to visit and although she tiptops around her father as if she is on eggshells, she also doesn’t escape his violent outbursts.  It’s only Susan’s two teenage children that are prepared to answer Willis back without any sign of restraint.

There is never any hesitation on the part of mild-mannered John or Eric to accept the responsibility of his father’s welfare even though there is not even a hint of respect and gratitude from Willis.  He is so rigidly set in the depths of his anger and unhappiness and he shows no sign of wanting to escape that.

Mortensen adds just one tiny touch of redemption via his own daughter for Willis who in the end insists in going back to the ranch in his own. 

It’s a fascinating dynamic where a rampant homophobia has no option than to rely on the generosity of his queer son.  Mortensen treats with sensitivity and such respect that somehow make the compelling story , and its outcome, so very authentic and watchable.

Posted by queerguru  at  14:15



Genres:  drama

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