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The Fall

Nothingness and Fascism in The Fall by Jonathan Glazer

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Before Jonathan Glazer released his newest film, 2023’s The Zone of Interest, he released another short film that began his onscreen look at fascism. Although, mind you, one is much less explicit in its telling and more experimental in its creation. This roughly seven-minute short film feels much more like an abstract exploration of totalizing, fascistic force that needs to be consciously understood through its sheer numbers and singular face. One that desires to push their bigotry and racism. Beyond just a social thought of white nationalism, there are physical and deadly implications always embedded in fascism. Glazer seemingly has had interest in talking about this, these past few years. Whether in much more concrete and geographically defined terms like in Zone of Interest or in his first exploration of this subject in a much more experiential way.

Spoilers ahead, so be warned!

The short begins with nothing. Darkness controls the screen for a moment before the horror of disconnection begins. The fear is in seeing life move, not through sheer movement but through the expressively static mask worn by the first “person” we see. Their face is almost frozen in time – or maybe in this case here – frozen to one’s fascistic ideology. This face is a conundrum for the fusiform area (the area of the brain that helps in facial recognition), one brought on by the singular expressive Noh mask.

In the next shot, a tree rattles in the light-polluted forest while a crowd surrounds it. They are all adorned with similar masks. In the tree is another masked figure, yet this individuals mask is different. Their mask produces worry. Through the collective rustling of the tree, the person is forcibly removed from it. In a long shot, the group acts in excited unison while they grab this worried masked figure. The camera transitions as they grab the fallen figure by the neck and take a photo with them, as if taking a trophy hunting photo. They take their plunder and forever embed the memory of forced control through the camera. After, the worried figure is sent to the gallows, where they have a noose tied around their neck. The title shows – “The Fall.” The rope falls in repetition as the rope burns, even affecting the metal it lays on through the rapid burn.

The fall is narratively here; it is as literal as it is metaphorical. Our character quite literally falls down this well-shaped hole into the oblivion of nothing. Back into the darkness from which the short began. The fascist group that hides in concealment watches as this rope turns metal liquid, and life is erased. Under the belief of their death, the group walks away dispersedly while one releases a motion of celebration of their oppressive desires and feeling of victory. The worried spirit we have followed does not meet his doom here but challenges the seemingly infinite fall. While the short ends here for our new companion, it is just a new journey up. As the credits roll, the sounds of their climbs echo endlessly, seeping into our ears and into our consciousness.

This movie in one part feels like it deals with the fear of nothingness and disconnect through the uncanny. Nothingness as a concept of physical space and in relation to others can produce a sense of uneasiness. This uneasiness from nothing can only be achieved in the uncertainty of what this nothingness is. To dig deeper, if something that looks unfamiliar feels close to something recognizable, our inability to correlate the space from the nothingness produces an underlining anxiety, a sense of the uncanny. The uncanny that produces something not quite at ease, not at home, that feeling of something feeling off¹ (a phenomenon Ernest Jentsch’s explores in the scholarly article On the psychology of the uncanny [1906]). It is this uncanny in Jonathan Glazer’s “The Fall” that makes it such an uncomfortable experience. I wonder, though, if this comes from Glazer’s stylistic creations, which feels detailed in creating a grimy life, one we only find partially recognizable. Or was it his intention to use this uneasiness to create a vision of immorality, of fascist indifference? His vision, of course, but one that unsettles.

Another element is the implications inspiring this short story. The spoils in the forced extraction of life are ones only celebrated by those with an inability to see morality in difference. Glazer said the moment where the photo is taken of the group and the worried figure is inspired by a photo of Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. holding up a cheetah they had just killed in a big game hunt. The eeriness of that moment’s inspiration positions an analysis of how images have been used as a way of celebrating atrocities beyond a big game hunt. What comes next after this trophy photo is taken is the lynching of this anonymous character.

This following scene coincides with both fascist notions of control and white nationalism. Glazer’s short, “The Fall,” seems to be about the ability of fascist mob mentality to attach to the monolith of people, to be a mask amongst bodies. Reminiscent of seeing photos of lynchings, the crowd of white spectators become one force of white nationalism. Glazer deals with some importantly difficult topics in his short. It leaves you wanting to understand the full story from which the narrative begins. I can see how this implies that not knowing further creates Glazer’s vision of white nationalism and fascism, one that feels present in being physically there, yet still practically inhuman in their practices through the feeling of uneasiness and the uncanny. It is hard to know if it works, although I feel that that interpretative element is part of what Glazer wants. It is up to individual viewers to know if it does or not, just as the feeling of the uncanny is up to what one’s perception is. I cannot pinpoint if it fully works for me, but it does make me very unsettled! I wonder if this stylistic choice will exist in The Zone of Interest as well, this uncanny feeling. It remains to be seen.

The Fall 2

The Zone of Interest screens starting Friday, February 2nd.
Friday, Feb 2nd – 6pm, 8:15pm
Saturday, Feb 3rd – 6pm, 8:15pm
Sunday, Feb 4th – 5:30pm, 8pm
Monday, Feb 5th – 5:45pm, 8:15pm
Tuesday, Feb 6th – 5:45pm, 8:15pm
Wednesday, Feb 7th – 5:45pm, 8:15pm
Thursday, Feb 8th – 5:45pm, 8:15pm
Friday, Feb 9th – 6pm
Saturday, Feb 10th – 7:30pm
Sunday, Feb 11th – 3:15pm
Monday, Feb 12th – 8pm
Tuesday, Feb 13th – 6pm
Wednesday, Feb 14th – 8:15pm
Thursday, Feb 15th – 8:15pm
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