Los Angeles, 1915: stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is hospitalized, as he is bedridden and possibly paralyzed after a jump he took in his first film. He meets Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a young Romanian-born patient in the hospital who is recovering from a broken arm, and begins to tell her a story about her namesake. Alexandria is told she has to leave, but Roy promises to tell her an epic tale if she returns the next day.
The next morning, as Roy spins his tale of fantasy, Alexandria's imagination brings his characters to life. Roy's tale is about five heroes: a silent Indian warrior (Jeetu Verma), a muscular ex-slave named Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), an Italian explosives expert called Luigi (Robin Smith), Charles Darwin (Leo Bill) with a pet monkey called Wallace, and a masked swashbuckling bandit. An evil ruler named Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone) has committed an offense against each of the five, who all seek revenge. The heroes are later joined by a sixth hero, a mystic.
Alexandria vividly imagines her friends and people around her appearing as the characters in Roy's story. Although Roy develops affection for Alexandria, he also has an ulterior motive: by gaining her trust, he tricks her into stealing morphine from the hospital pharmacy so that he can attempt suicide; a choice driven by his love leaving him for the actor for whom he provided the stunt footage. However, Alexandria returns with only three pills, having mistaken the "E" on the piece of paper Roy gave her for a "3". The stories become a collaborative tale to which Alexandria also contributes. Alexandria herself becomes a character: while Roy is the masked bandit, she is his daughter.
Roy talks Alexandria into stealing a bottle of morphine tablets locked in a fellow patient's cabinet, and then downs it all. The next morning, Roy awakens from his sleep and realizes he is only alive because his neighboring patient is receiving a placebo rather than actual morphine. Alexandria, desperate to help Roy, sneaks out of bed to the pharmacy. She climbs onto the cabinet but loses her footing, falls, and is badly injured. She receives surgery, after which she is visited by Roy, where he confesses his deception. He encourages Alexandria to ask someone else to end the story, but she insists on hearing Roy's ending. Roy reluctantly begins the rest of the story.
The heroes die one by one, and it seems that Governor Odious will be triumphant. Alexandria becomes upset, and Roy insists, "It's my story." She declares that it is hers too and exerts some influence on the course of the tale. Finally, the epic tale comes to an end with only the Bandit and his daughter remaining alive and Governor Odious dying. Roy and Alexandria, along with the patients and staff of the hospital, watch a viewing of the finished 'flicker' that Roy appeared in. With everyone laughing, only Roy's smile is broken in confusion when he sees that his life-threatening jump has been edited out of the film as another stuntman jumps instead.
Alexandria’s arm heals and she returns to the orange orchard where her family works. Her voice-over reveals that Roy had recovered and was now back at work again. As she talks, a montage of cuts from several of silent films' greatest and most dangerous stunts plays; she imagines all the stuntmen to be Roy.Lee Pace as Roy Walker / Black Bandit
Catinca Untaru as Alexandria / Bandit's daughter
Justine Waddell as Nurse Evelyn / Sister Evelyn
Daniel Caltagirone as Sinclair / Governor Odious
Marcus Wesley as Ice delivery man / Otta Benga
Robin Smith as One-legged actor / Luigi
Jeetu Verma as Orange picker / Indian
Kim Uylenbroek as Doctor / Alexander the Great
Leo Bill as Orderly / Charles Darwin
Emil Hostina as Alexandria's father / Blue Bandit
Julian Bleach as Mystic / Orange Picker
Ronald France as Otto (the "old man")
According to the director's remarks on the DVD release of the film, Tarsem Singh largely financed the film with his own funds, determined to make the film according to his own vision, and paid members of the cast and crew on an equal basis rather than in more typical Hollywood fashion.
Singh's commentary indicates the film was made over a period of four years and incorporates footage shot in more than 20 countries, including India, Indonesia (Bali), Italy, France, Spain, Namibia, China (PRC), and numerous others, a few of which are not listed in the credits. The contemporary South African mental hospital which substitutes as an early 20th-century Los Angeles hospital and the principal setting throughout the film remained operational (in a separate wing) during filming, according to the DVD commentaries.
The DVD supplementary features reveal that actor Lee Pace remained in a bed for most of the early filming at the director's suggestion, convincing most of the crew that he was in fact unable to walk. The intention, Tarsem and Pace noted, was to maximize the realism of Roy's physical limitations in the eyes of Catinca Untaru, whose lines and reactions as the character Alexandria were largely unscripted, and so were young Catinca's spontaneous interactions with Pace's character. For example, Alexandria's misinterpreting the letter E as the number 3 in a note written by Roy came about from an accidental misreading by the 6-year-old actress during filming, which the director then realized he could adapt into a clever twist in the story.
To further the realism of young Catinca's performance, Tarsem had portions of the hospital scenes between Pace and his young co-star filmed through small holes in the hospital bed curtains, maximizing the youngster's spontaneous interactions with Pace despite the presence of the film crew surrounding them.Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa
Deadvlei from the Sossusvlei dune in Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia
The labyrinth Jantar Mantar in Jaipur
Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, India
Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic
Butterfly reef NE of Mana Island, Fiji (Coordinates: -17.672339, 177.131704)
Ubud, Bali Island, Indonesia
Andaman Islands of India
Pangong Tso in Ladakh, India
Buland Darwaza in the palace complex of Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, India
Magnetic Hill in Ladakh, India
Moonscape near Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh, India
Gunung Kawi, Bali Island, Indonesia
Chand Baori, a large stepwell in Abhaneri village in the Indian state of Rajasthan
Jodhpur, the Blue City in Rajasthan
Umaid Bhawan Palace Lobby, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Taj Mahal, India
Jardín Botánico de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Capitoline Hill, Colosseum, Roma, Italy
Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, Italy
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
First Statue of Liberty at Île aux Cygnes in Paris, France
The Fall premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. For its theatrical release in 2008, the film was presented by David Fincher and Spike Jonze.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 59% rating based on 103 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2 out of 10. The site's critical consensus states: "More visually elaborate than the fragmented story can sometimes support, The Fall walks the line between labor of love and filmmaker self-indulgence." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 64/100, based on 23 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film 4/4, and wrote, "You might want to see [it] for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it." Nathan Lee of The New York Times, however, wrote that the film "is a genuine labor of love — and a real bore."
The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club named it the best film of 2008, Sean Axmaker of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named it the 6th best film of 2008, and Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times named it among his top 20 films of 2008.