Viggo Mortensen’s Falling Ruthlessly Understands Some Parents Simply Won’t Accept You
In November, Academy Award winner Viggo Mortensen made some headlines after he gave a cold shoulder to those who choose to be offended by heterosexual actors portraying gay characters… simply and boldly put… because they are actors! Rather than have to drop his film like the bizarre debacle Scarlett Johansson experienced through cancel culture, Mortensen pushed forth with his movie Falling, which he directed, wrote, and starred in. Falling follows John Peterson (Mortensen), who has to care for his homophobic father battling dementia. Spoiler alert beware, because we’re going to take a dive into the film’s crippling plot which is clearly in route to gain momentum for Mortensen next Awards season.
Falling takes us back and forth between various timelines in the lives of the Peterson family. Willis Peterson (Lance Henriksen) and his wife, Gwen (Hannah Gross), begin their happy lives in rural America with their newborn son. Willis almost proves himself from the jump to be a bit sadistic – he makes his newborn cry whilst they have a private conversation where he apologizes to his newborn for bringing him in the world since he’ll eventually die. The family grows with the addition of daughter Sarah, but not all is well internally as Gwen is clearly miserable from her husband’s abrasive and emotionally abusive demeanor. Eventually, Gwen has an affair with another man and leaves Willis – who becomes even more cynical as he ventures into the next journey of his life. Willis is forever damaged from Gwen leaving him and he mostly takes out his anger on young John, who is gentler than his father – obviously.
We flash forward many years to an aging, bilingual John who now lives blissfully in California with his husband, Eric (Terry Chen), and their adopted daughter, Monica (Gabby Velis). John has to struggle venturing via plane with Willis who is succumbing to the many symptoms of dementia. Upon arriving, Willis exhibits unhinged homophobia to John and Eric, a trait that is instilled in him from his youth. While he shows signs of racism, he does care for his adopted granddaughter, who is Hispanic, and befriends her with sincere love. Willis seemingly sees Monica as a beacon of hope since his children, including the adult Sarah (Laura Linney) and her two children, one of whom is a lesbian, despise him. Try as they might, the family eventually loses their patience with Willis who seriously, no matter what, will not project his cruel, internal demons onto those who will attempt to care for him. Eventually, Willis returns back to his rural farmhouse and enters what could be perceived to either be death or a deeper stage of dementia where he envisions probably the last time he was happy: When he and Gwen have passionate sex outside in the grass under the stars.
We’ve previously seen shoehorned LGBTQ storylines or characters inserted into new television and cinema which comes with an eye roll. We get it, Hollywood producers – you wanted to check a box so you can advertise towards gay audiences that you have a gay character, who probably is based upon someone you knew in high school or what you think the “gay lifestyle” is like. Let it be known, Falling is NOT that. Not once does Mortensen’s portrayal of John, Chen’s Eric, or Linney’s lesbian daughter feel forced or offensive. One watching can certainly tell Mortensen put time into his characters and made them authentic rather than animated characters. No one is a constantly failing victim, there’s not a musical number, and thankfully there’s not James Corden. To watch a film surrounding LGBTQ persons that isn’t eccentric or based on their sexuality is incredibly refreshing. Gay characters can be monogamous, intelligent, caring – whatever the heck they want to be – without the added glitter or unnecessary mid 2000’s sitcom drama that middle America perceives or wants them to be.
Falling’s plot may leave you yearning for more emotion between Willis and John. There’s plenty to witness and empathize with, but once you understand that the relationship between father and son is so toxic, you actually get why John (and the rest of the family) is so over Willis’ behavior. He’s draining and someone you don’t want to associate with – even if he’s in your bloodline.
Despite the added baggage of dementia, Willis is an unlikable guy and always has been. Not even the super eye candy of Sverrir Gudnason, who absolutely shines in his role as Young Adult Willis, can manage to make the character’s screen time valuable. But, that’s the point! You aren’t supposed to like Willis unless you’re in his mindset. Its why John consistently battles himself on whether to care for his father or leave him entirely. Nothing will change Willis – not even dementia. That fact hits you like a shovel once you realize there will be no redemption or happy ending. Willis doesn’t think he needs a redemption arc, as he’s set in his ways, so we aren’t going to see it. It’s frustrating as hell, but that has been real life for many, many gay adults who have paved the path for younger generations. Falling showcases the crushing experience of someone whose parent(s) will absolutely never accept them, even in an altered state when they’re literally losing their mind.
If you’re looking for a RomCom or some uplifting, overly produced Hollywood story about gay people – I’m sure there’s something on Hulu or Netflix for you to gawk over. Falling isn’t that. Falling seeps us back into reality that essentially, as gay people, we do come out multiple times throughout our lives and we’re not always going to be accepted, even if it’s almost trendy to be gay in 2021. Mortensen hits every mark for presenting us a melancholy story that needed to be shared. The production value, the cinematography, and acting is sensational and moving. Mortensen is still as sexy as he was in ‘98s A Perfect Murder and anyone could watch Linney recite the United States Constitution and be starstruck with awe. You should definitely curl up with a warm snack and check out Falling this weekend.
Falling is available on Amazon, Vudu, Google, Microsoft, Comcast, Spectrum, DirecTV, Dish, FandangoNOW, and more.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.