I watched the most amazing movie a few months ago because I wanted to see more of Lee Pace, who has blown me away with every single character he brings to life. That movie was The Fall, and I cannot say enough to praise the loveliness of the film, the performances of Lee and Catinca Untaru, and the ways in which the movie explores the inner workings of stories and storytellers. (Admittedly, I have a weakness for that subject matter, and everyone should run off and read Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys, his best book, after they've seen this movie.) It's hard to describe this film without giving too much away, or making it seem like something it's not, but probably the best way I can pitch it is if you picked up The Princess Bride and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, shook them together, and plunked them down into the most beautiful places on earth, both natural and constructed. I only wish I'd seen this on the big screen. Trust me, you will want to see this movie. Go!
Roy, waiting for Alexandria to wake up after her second fall. Title from Theodore Roethke. Rated PG.
"The Shapes a Bright Container Can Contain"
What if he had stripped the wonder out of her? Had he killed the wonder in her?
Already, he missed the unthinking way she used to nestle against him. Trusting that their warmth was to be freely offered, shared, because she hadn't known what else she was giving him. What he was taking from her.
She wasn't grown-up enough to play Alice's decorous games with him, adult enough to be merciful and never let her wavering gaze brush over his skin - she would seek him out, and he would not dwell in ignorance. But only once she woke up.
Every breath he dragged in or out was waiting for the light of her eyes on him, eyes as bright as the coins that the bruised priest might still have to lay on her lids.
The hospital sterility had had no effect on the griminess of her fingernails. His own were bitten, pulled, ravaged to the quick. Who had ever heard of a finicky, fastidious bandit? Her hands were small and dimpled, but they had been strong enough to hold him up.
Who had ever heard of twisting a child's love - for her father, for tales of the exploits he might have had - into a means of death?
I'm glad I never kissed you, the Masked Bandit had said, but Alexandria had kissed him, a butterfly of breath on his brow when he had looked to her for an entirely different form of salvation. He couldn't let it be true. He rolled forward, silent in this airless chamber of vigil, and kissed her back, on the small patch of skin framed by painfully white bandages holding down the soft fall of her hair.
She emerged analytical instead of imaginative. They must have questioned her when they picked her crumpled body up, despite the round cheeks and fearless eyes, and he had left her all alone.
"What means - 'Walker' means this, yes?" On this, she trotted out her index and middle fingers for a stroll along the length of her cast. "But it isn't true." She rubbed absently at her ear, no doubt itchy under the bandage that wound around her head like her Indian's turban. "You should have new name."
There was a pause, and she said, "Roy Storyteller," with enough emphasis that he knew she'd learned that story meant lie.
"Roy Palaver," he offered, trying to play along with this sharper Alexandria, not the same girl he'd abandoned.
Her triumphant smile involved pinched lips, not the wide, gap-toothed glory he'd grown accustomed to. "Roy Gibberish," she pronounced, the sweet cadences gone in the new crispness of her vowels.
He bowed his head under her rebuke and felt her eyes linger on the vulnerable hollow, just big enough for one of her soft fingers, just where the back of his neck met his skull.
That snapped him out of the fevered dream. Could he not leave her to recover in peace? Did he have to make even her convalescence all about him?
When she finally awoke, he wasn't there.
He wheeled in to see her, waited for the tangles of her eyelashes to part.
She couldn't move her head, lay there like a butterfly he'd pinned to the bed, and still wanted him to lead her down the path of poisonous flowers they'd been treading.
"No," he protested, weakly, always so weak, and hid his face in her pillow. The fragrance of oranges no longer clung to her as it had when she'd used to cuddle confidingly close to him; her breath and body had a medicinal tang now, and suddenly he could picture her fall as vividly as she must have seen the web of lies he'd spun for her.
He tried to hack his way through, revealing his words for the weapons they'd always been, but the story resisted, held fast as if it had a life of its own, and he couldn't contend with the slow roll of her tears.
He wanted to reach out and wipe them away; she was lying immobile, as defenseless as she'd always been, and couldn't check their progress herself. He'd just brought one hand up when he heard the meaning of all of her hurt little murmurs. She wanted him to live. She loved him more than the story, despite the riches and wonders he'd used to enchant her, despite the echoes of her father he'd crafted to try to please her.
That was the ending she needed. He wanted to give her everything. Underwater, he spit out a mouthful of blood and opened his eyes.
The day she first sat up, trembling like he'd made her weep again, he felt a shiver go down his spine. Or - well, crawl down his neck and leave an electric tingle in his fingertips. She couldn't maintain the posture for too long, dizzy as she was, but the lively interest she showed in their dull, monochromatic surroundings woke him up.
He'd given her a world drenched with color, humming with life, before. These white walls were not enough for her. He wheeled out to the hallway after she had drowsed off, tried to be patient as the nurse making her rounds fetched an orderly who could carry him down the stairs. He knew they were making allowances for him, were touched by the repentance he was performing. So he was an actor after all, even if the audience didn't know the lines he would not let himself speak, the lure of that other world they'd created, where he could still get lost and drag her, his little, lost daughter, back down with him.
He fought cramps as he cut curves from bright swatches of colored paper; he hadn't used his hands for anything lately except shaking out pills from dangerously pilfered bottles and seducing her imagination by miming the sway of dancers in a wedding party, the significant gestures of a band of brothers each pursuing his own death. He shook his hand out and picked up the scissors again.
He always ached after a round of therapy, hated the way it took him back to that moment he couldn't stop remembering, when he had exploded with a crash of sound, dragging the world inside out. There had been water everywhere - his eyes, his lungs, his mouth - and he'd flailed, felt Black Bandit's mane slip through his suddenly slack fingers.
The cotton of the sheets that swathed him didn't feel anything like the stiff silk of horsehair beneath his roving hands, and he snapped himself out of the familiar nightmare. "Are you ready to visit your friend today?" the nurse asked, and he allowed himself a bleak and bitter smile at the phrasing, carefully constructed to give him the right of refusal, as if he could resist Alexandria's stubborn refusal to give him up.
He situated himself in the wheelchair, assisted by her capable hands, and pulled the wire frame that held the paper cutouts onto his lap.
Even before she'd spotted the gift, Alexandria beamed when she saw him. "I hardly remembered you had hair," he teased, startled at how different she looked without the odd crown of bandages, how less alien. The old braids and ribbons were gone, too; she had a cloud of hair puffed out around her scrupulously clean face.
She nodded seriously at his joke, gaze transfixed by the paper still on his lap. "Her hair needs to be brushed," the nurse said, bending down to hand him a heavy brush of tarnished silver, more beautiful than he had expected, and plucking the wire and paper from his lap as she stood back up. "Let me hang this for you, and then I have to continue with my rounds."
Alexandria twisted with enviable ease to watch the mobile being hung, and he drank in her wide-eyed wonder at the work of his hands. "It is like birds, when they - when they land on the branch, near the orange, and they hop, hop, hop, to get closer and everything shakes." He could see it as she spoke, an image unfurled on a banner, of a twig trembling under the weight of a brightly-plumed bird, an orange hanging from the branch like a small copy of the bright sun overhead.
"Maybe you are the bird," he suggested, remembering her determined gait, the funny little sidelong glances she'd used to gauge his moods.
"No," she said, firmly. "I watch the birds." She tilted her head back up to watch the mobile, twisting with its shifting balances, and he remembered his task.
"Can I come up there?" he asked, gesturing with his chin at her bed, his hands already braced to take his weight. At her nod, he levered himself out of the chair and sideways into her twin bed, straining his arms to push until he could feel the cool wall through the thin shirt stretched across his shoulders. He pulled his legs up after him, and with no concern for dignity, she scooted her way into the space between them, pivoted, and presented him with a mass of tangled hair.
He left the hairbrush on the small table by the side of the bed and used his fingers to coax free the worst of the knots. Her hair was warm and heavy against his hands, twisted like the roots of a weeping willow, and smelling like herbs. As he worked, steadily, carefully, feeling her breathe against his chest, he darted glances at the shadow puppets she was making against the far wall, listened as she told their tales.
She tipped her head up, searching out the mobile once more, and he picked up the brush, weaving the boar bristles through the soft strands of her hair, following the wave. She was as loose-limbed and relaxed as a purring cat, and her happiness was nearly a tangible thing. "Thank you," she said, sounding far away and drowsy, and he put down the brush. He didn't know how to finish the job as the nurses had, how to braid or tie a hair ribbon into the proper bows, and he remembered the picture in her box had shown her demure in a headscarf her mother had probably put on her for practical purposes.
"You're welcome," he said, sagging back against the wall despite its chill. He could feel her moving her warmth away from him, and he closed his eyes, worn out himself. He guessed that she was crawling down the bed, her hospital gown undoubtedly skimming the length of his legs; her face was probably angled up to the mobile again.
A pinprick, then a burst of sound through his brain like a pennant snapping in the wind, and then a buzzing flowing through him, and he wondered if this was what she had felt as her teeth had grown in. And then he knew.
"Alexandria," he said, speaking even before he had his eyes fully open because he was, for once, sure, "you're touching my big toe." And she grinned up at him, impudent, roguish, the promise of a world of wonder shining from her, nowhere near out of reach.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.