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Dad, dementia, and acceptance: Viggo Mortensen flips the script with ‘Falling’

The LOTR star's directorial debut is a family drama that is as head-scratching as it is familiar

Oftentimes when we meet an unsavoury movie character, we bank on one of two things: they will either face gratifying retribution or transform to meet our moral convictions.

In his directorial debut Falling, Viggo Mortensen, best known for his work as Aragorn in the Lord of The Rings movie series, dispenses with that paradigm while exploring the family dynamics surrounding an aging parent with dementia.

John Peterson (Viggo Mortensen) is a remarkably loyal son, perhaps even to a fault. Falling follows John as he helps his elderly father Willis (Lance Henriksen) work out his living accommodations. Meanwhile, Willis’ dementia is progressing to an increasingly dire state.

John’s seemingly boundless patience is put to the test as addresses his father’s dementia and copes with Willis’ never-ending stream of racism and homophobia, much of which is targeted at John’s marriage to his partner Eric (Terry Chen). 

While watching Falling for the first time, I naively waited for Willis to have the “A-ha!” moment and realize that he was an insensitive dirtbag who needed to change his ways. Alas, this never happened. Although I felt little gratification when the credits rolled, I was reminded that is often the case when it comes to life’s painful family dynamics. 

That reality was important to keep in mind as I scratched my head at the film’s conclusion, wondering what Mortensen wished to accomplish in his directorial debut.

On one hand, Falling could be a cautionary tale about the dangers of succumbing to a complete lack of moral consciousness and the emotional separation it produces. However, given Willis’ stark lack of remorse, I find that unlikely. 

Rather, Falling seems to be a story of acceptance. The people in our lives won’t always be who we want them to be, and in turn, we will often fall short of their expectations. Accepting our loved ones for who they are is paradoxically both difficult and liberating. In a time where aggressively disputing our differences of opinion is the norm, acceptance is a virtue we can all try to uphold.

Falling is being released in Canada by Mongrel Media.

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