For all its high fantasy, The Fall is a close, quiet movie. Immortals is a big action picture, yet it's just as revealing. True to its title, it's all about immortality: immortality through genes versus immortality through deeds. The villain, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, absolutely selling it), obsesses about the former. When he conquers a nation, he makes sure to kill the pregnant women and rape the rest; he wants them to see his face in the next generation. He neuters his own soldiers with what looks like a giant croquet mallet to make sure they don't do the same.
Theseus (Henry Cavill, channeling Christopher Reeve) argues for the opposite side. At the start of the film, his mother and Zeus (in disguise as an old man) are both pestering him to settle down and find a wife. He shakes them off: a man is measured by his works, he says. By what he leaves behind.
The argument recurs throughout the movie, pitting procreation against works — or art — again and again. It's almost mutually exclusive: you can have one or the other but not both. The luminous Freida Pinto plays the virgin oracle Phaedra, who sees visions so long as she abstains from sex. Once she beds Theseus, her visions are gone. Then there are the gods, who aren't supposed to intercede in affairs of men. Zeus is bending the rules, meddling in his disguise. It's funny, his daughter Athena tells him — dressed like that, he almost looks like "a real father."
The same themes are there in the language Tarsem uses to talk about the film: "My earlier film The Fall was a very personal film," he told one reporter. "A film like Immortals, on the other hand, is a much more acceptable film, but I still wanted to make it in such a way that my DNA would be in the movie. . . . In the end, I felt Immortals ended up with enough of my DNA."
Thus, the final knock-down, drag-out UFC showdown between Theseus and Hyperion becomes an allegory, but a very personal one. Hyperion asks Theseus what it feels like to know he won't be remembered. Theseus looks into his eyes and says his own deeds will outlive him.
In the end, they do: we see a frieze showing the scenes of the film, already stylized and turned into legend — into art. But then Tarsem can't resist giving him a posthumous son, Akemos; the child's wide eyes are the last shot of the film.
I'm interested to see what Tarsem does next, and I won't have long to wait. Mirror Mirror, a retelling of Snow White, comes out in the spring.
Why a fairy tale?, a reporter recently asked him.
"I guess it's because I don't have any children," Tarsem said. "The only way I can pass my genes on right now is through my films."