I was intrigued by the reviews for the above film when it eventually -- some three years late -- opened here, which varied wildly between describing it as a magical experience and overblown hooey. Apparently Variety called it 'absurdly elaborate' and the product of a 'wildly indulged' creator. The Indian-born director Tarsem (Singh) is the US-based director of music videos and his only previous cinema outing was 2000's "The Cell" with Jennifer Lopez, a visually-arresting but muddled and underperforming movie. This one was shot over several years in nearly twenty exotic locations and it is something of a miracle that it ever managed to see the light of day or to sustain its funding. But a rating of 8 out of 10 on IMDb suggests that I am not alone in having found it worthwhile viewing, despite the critical sniping.
Set in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s, Lee Pace plays an injured stuntman (the background to his accident is shown in the black and white footage under the opening credits and is an important part of the story) who makes friends with a young immigrant girl, the enchanting Romanian Catinca Untaru; she wanders through the hospital grounds and wards as her broken arm heals. He begins to weave an elaborate tale which catches her burgeoning imagination concerning the exploits of five heroes -- an Indian (imagined by her as a native of India and not a native-American), an ex-slave, an Italian explosives expert, Charles Darwin with his pet monkey, and a masked bandit, all of whom are out to destroy Governor Odious who has wronged them. They are joined by a mumbling mystic who descends from a tree in the desert and their travels take them from one gorgeously elaborate location to another. In her mind, these characters take on the faces of various people from the hospital environment (much like "The Wizard of Oz") including a comely nurse who becomes entwined in the tale. Little does Catinca realise that the Pace is using their friendship to entice her to bring him morphine so that he can end his life. Reality mixes with illusion and the storyteller's death-wish colours the fate of the various protagonists.
It is apparently not an original story, but a reworking of a completely obscure Bulgarian film from 1981 caled "Yo Ho Ho"; one wonders how Tarsem even stumbled across the original movie. What he has created here can certainly be described as a folly, but it is a glorious one. The film may or may not be an act of hubris as his accusers would have it, but it is a truly beautiful one.