Former “Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Mortensen has a very personal story to tell in his directorial debut.
The Watertown High School graduate writes, directs, produces, scores, and stars in “Falling” as John Peterson, who lives with his partner (Terry Chen) and their daughter (Gabby Velis) in California, far from the rural life he left behind at the family farm in Upstate New York. Worlds collide when John’s father Willis, struggling with dementia, comes to stay and refuses to change.
“Aliens” actor Lance Henriksen plays the older version of Willis, a codger who angrily calls his ex-wives “whores” and often makes homophobic comments in front of his gay son. Viggo lookalike Sverrir Gudnason, best known for playing tennis legend Bjorn Borg in “Borg vs. McEnroe,” plays the younger version of Willis, driving John’s mother away. Scenes flash back and forth between the past and present, to illustrate Willis’ struggles with memory and his many failed relationships.
The movie was largely shot in Ontario, but many scenes are set in Northern NY with locations resembling where Mortensen spent his formative years.
“Southern Ontario looks a lot like the other side of the St. Lawrence river,” Mortensen, 62, explained in an interview with syracuse.com | The Post-Standard.
“Just a landscape that I’m familiar with, which is why I set it in that place,” he added. “I used things that I knew very well. Landscapes, seasons, what things looked like in the ’60s and ‘70s up around there: Cars, clothes, people, houses, farms, and to some degree what they look like now.”
“In an indirect way it is a salute to the North Country and to New York state. You’ll see it when you watch it.”
The film will be especially compelling to those who know someone with dementia, which afflicts more than 50 million people worldwide. The World Health Organization projects three times as many people will be living with dementia by 2050, with symptoms that include forgetfulness or getting lost and confused.
“We’ve had a lot of that in our family,” Mortensen said. Both Mortensen’s mother and father had dementia, as well as his stepfather and grandparents on both sides of the family.
Mortensen currently lives in Spain but still has family in the North Country and returns often. He was spotted at the Mustard Seed Natural Market and Cafe in Watertown around Christmas 2019 and he made extended stays helping take care of his mother, Grace, when she died in 2015 and his father, Viggo Sr., when he died two years later.
On his website, Mortensen said his father started to confuse Viggo with his own father, “slipping now and then into the distant past of his childhood and adolescence, speaking to me in Danish instead of English.”
But while the movie’s dementia battle and John’s hometown — the Watertown Daily Times newspaper is even featured in some scenes — are based on real…