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Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut “Falling” explores a difficult father-son relationship, worsening as dementia progresses

Friday 04 December 2020

On 4 December, the film “Falling” – a drama written and directed by Viggo Mortensen - was released in the United Kingdom. Its first screening took place at the 2020 Sundance film festival. The film stars Mr Mortensen as John Peterson, a middle-aged gay man whose conservative and homophobic father Willis (Lance Henriksen), starts to exhibit symptoms of dementia, forcing him to sell the family farm and move to Los Angeles to live with John and his husband Eric (Terry Chen). As the father’s illness progresses, his lifelong anger builds to a new, unmanageable level and the test for John (Viggo Mortensen), is how to extend compassion to a man who has rarely shown any to him or the rest of his family (his husband and young daughter, as well as his sister).

Although Mr Mortensen’s late father had dementia, the film is not a portrait of him. “He was a much better communicator than Willis is and we had a better relationship. But there are enough traces of him in what Lance plays – fragments of conversations we had, some difficult moments – that it was constantly moving for me to see.”

Viggo Mortensen was determined to be honest about the illness and the way it is experienced, both by the person diagnosed and by their family. “Movies which deal with this subject generally show someone who’s confused. My experience is that this isn’t the case – it’s the ones observing the person who get confused. Memory is subjective anyway. Why is his present any less valid than yours? If your father is saying he had breakfast with someone you know has been dead for 30 years, don’t say: ‘He died years ago,’ say: ‘What did you guys eat?’ On some ethical level, you think: ‘I’m lying’…But you’re giving something that makes them feel good. It’s not about you.”