I likely wouldn’t have watched Falling if I wasn’t a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, and therefore Viggo Mortensen. But since I am, I needed to check out the longtime actor’s directorial debut. And I’m mostly glad I watched it. After The Father and Supernova, this is the third movie I’ve seen this year about an elderly person who is beginning to experience severe memory loss, and Falling is easily my least favorite of the three, which is not to say that it’s bad.
While the film isn’t completely autobiographical, Mortensen drew from his own experiences as a child and as a person whose mother experienced dementia. Here, he writes, directs, and stars as John Peterson, a gay man whose homophobic father, Willis (Lance Henriksen), with the early stages of dementia is coming across the country to visit and potentially buy a house near his son. Like the aforementioned films, this can be very difficult to watch at times. Willis is verbally abusive to his son, daughter, son-in-law, grandkids, restaurant servers, and everyone in between. Partly, it’s not his fault, simply because of his mental condition. But he’s still in possession of his faculties and should know not to be aggressively disrespectful.
I’ve come to expect a certain visual flair from first-time directors, but Mortensen doesn’t employ flashy visuals that draw attention to themselves. The camera is more of an objective observer, which is to the benefit of the story. It focuses mostly on the dynamic between John and Willis, which is much like waves repeatedly crashing on the beach. John previously made the decision not to engage in his father’s attacks, but with each wave, the more he’s worn down. It leads to a climactic verbal showdown between the two of them, which is easily the most meaningful scene of the movie. Unfortunately, the movie probably warrants at least one or two more.
You can feel the personal touches from Mortensen. Because of what he went through with his mother in real life, a lot of the more day-to-day experiences of trying to help his father feel more frustratingly real. You sense his mixture of love and weariness towards his father, and as a viewer you begin to feel the same way. Ultimately, the movie is about accepting people where they are, no matter the stage of life, and using that understanding and acceptance to make yourself better. It’s not excusing the bad actions others take towards us, but it’s advocating for an attitude of empathy and thoughtfulness. Loving someone is hard, no matter your relationship to them, and the relationship in this movie is sadly common. Mortensen’s heart and purpose are certainly in the right place, even if it doesn’t always come together perfectly.