Falling parents guide

Falling Parent Guide

Beautifully made, this is a bleak and disheartening story of the price of anger.

Overall C-

Digital on Demand: Suffering from dementia, Willis can no longer live on his farm. As he goes to California to find a place to retire near his family, it becomes apparent that he can't escape his past choices.

Release date February 5, 2021

Violence C+
Sexual Content D
Profanity D
Substance Use C

Why is Falling rated R? The MPAA rated Falling R for language throughout including offensive slurs, crude sexual references, brief sexuality and nudity

Run Time: 112 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Looking at his infant son, Willis Peterson (Sverrir Gudnason) wryly says, “I’m sorry I brought you into this world so you could die.” It’s an unnerving comment from the father of a healthy child. But viewers will consider it an omen after they’ve spent almost two hours watching Willis kill the spirits of anyone whose life he touches.

Falling is a dispiriting film filled with loss, abuse, and hurt. It cuts back and forth between Willis as a young father and as an old man (Lance Henriksen). Age does not mellow him; it simply gives him dementia, thereby removing any filter he ever had and making his cruelty more vicious and visible. He can no longer manage the work on his farm or the harsh winters, so he visits his son, John (Viggo Mortenssen) in California to find a place to retire. While there, he constantly barrages John and his husband Eric (Terry Chen) with homophobic rants and is so combative to his daughter, Sarah (Laura Linney) that her face visibly breaks up in anguish.

I’m not sure what drove Viggo Mortensen to select Falling as his premiere directorial debut. There is no doubt the story is beautifully filmed, with some shots so perfectly composed that they could be printed and framed. The acting is also top shelf. Henriksen and Gudnason both inject Willis with venom, rage, and a barely-hidden fear of his own inadequacy. Mortensen portrays John as a survivor, with a fulfilling life painstakingly achieved after years of struggle. If a character study is what Mortensen intended to produce, he has succeeded.

The frustrating part of Falling is that it misses the most important part of this family’s story. Yes, it offers a bleak examination of the psyche of an emotional abuser. What it doesn’t show – and what I dearly wish it did – is how John and Sarah managed to escape their father’s legacy. Both somehow matured into capable and resilient adults who are caring, accepting parents and who somehow maintain relationships with their toxic father. It’s worth pointing out, however, that they still aren’t free - neither sibling is able to set and enforce boundaries with their father which has them enduring his verbal abuse over and over and over again.

Unsurprisingly, this depressing story is swamped by extreme levels of profanity. There are over 100 swear words, and that doesn’t include the extensive homophobic slurs and repeated crude sexual comments that litter the film. There are disturbing scenes of family violence, both physical and verbal. And there’s female breast nudity that is featured as part of a man’s sexual fantasies. Add in frequent scenes of smoking and alcohol consumption, and this show pretty much ticks all the boxes for movies we don’t want teens to see.

As for adults, I’m not sure who this film is aimed at. If you enjoy character studies or stories of dysfunctional families, this will be your cup of tea. If you want lots of action or a nice, neat happy ending, this film will disappoint. Perhaps the real benefit of Falling is its reminder that we all must find ways to coexist peaceably with difficult people, with those whose opinions offend or frighten us or whose views are simply incomprehensible. And Willis is the living incarnation of what happens if we fail; that misery and loneliness are the inevitable consequence of stewing in a life of fear, rage, and hate.

Directed by Viggo Mortensen. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason, Laura Linney, Terry Chen. Running time: 112 minutes. Theatrical release February 5, 2021. Updated

Rating & Content Info

Why is Falling rated R? Falling is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout including offensive slurs, crude sexual references, brief sexuality and nudity

Violence: A man teaches child to shoot and he shoots a duck. The child plays with the dead duck, even sleeping with it. A child helps his mother pluck a dead duck’s feathers. Parents argue about letting a child use guns. A distraught man shouts at people as he wanders around an airplane interior. A man spits on the floor in front of his wife when he’s angry at her. An angry man hits tables more than once. A man and his teenage son fight on horseback – the man hits the teen, the teen shoves the man, the man pushes the teen off his horse, leaving him with a cut on his face that bleeds and scars. A man throws eggs at a person. A man deliberately blows cigarette smoke in someone’s face. A man repeatedly punches his son. A man talks about shooting a horse. Two adults grapple and hit each other. There’s brief discussion of a car accident that kills and injures people. A man is seen dying (painlessly).
Sexual Content: A man talks about “getting up” a woman. There are frequent crude (often pejorative) discussions of gay sex and male sexual anatomy. There are discussions of sexual acts that can’t be described on a family website. A naked woman rides a horse; her breasts are visible. A man makes crude comments during a rectal exam. A man pulls up his shirt and shows his scarred chest. There are scenes of men and women kissing. Two men hug and kiss each other. A man fantasizes about a sexual encounter with a woman – her breasts are visible.
Profanity: The film is awash in profanity, with at least 34 sexual expletives, 30 terms of deity, 13 minor profanities, 10 anatomical swear words, and 20 scatological curses. There are frequent homophobic slurs, including crude terms for sexual acts. In addition, coarse terms for male and female genitalia are used as are demeaning words for women. Slurs leveled at people of other racial and ethnic groups are used as is one levelled at the intellectually impaired. 
Alcohol / Drug Use: A man smokes a cigarette near his baby. A man tries to smoke in an airplane bathroom. A man grabs a stranger’s alcoholic beverage and drinks it. There are frequent scenes of adults drinking alcohol. A main character smokes cigarettes frequently. A main character drinks alcohol against his doctor’s advice.

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Falling Parents' Guide

Why do you think Willis treats his family members the way he does? What motivates him to act in ways that push people away?

How can you recognize the signs of emotional abuse? What resources are available in your community to help people trapped in abusive relationships? How can you help someone in that situation?

Healthline: How to Recognize the Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse

Psychology Today: Helping Loved Ones in Emotionally Abusive Relationships

HuffPost: 11 Subtle Signs You Might Be in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

USA: National Domestic Violence Hotline

Canada: Ending Violence: Find Help Across Canada

UK: Women’s Aid: Information and Support


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