Even before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, America's growing politicial divide has taken a profound toll on the way families communicate with each other. Throughout former president Donald Trump's divisive four-year term, reports frequently circulated about relatives cutting off contact due to different political beliefs or media consumption habits. (For example, one widely-circulated 2019 New York Magazine story collected stories of people who stopped talking to family members that had become devoted viewers of Fox News.) For many families, that gulf has remained even as President Joe Biden has entered the Oval Office, with misinformation about the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath still rampant. "It's like another pandemic," Viggo Mortensen tells Yahoo Entertainment while discussing his directorial debut, Falling, alongside co-star Lance Henrisken. "We have a problem with communication." (Watch our video interview above.)
In his own life, the Lord of the Rings star says that he's experienced his version of breaking up with friends and family members over politics. "I'm surprised by people who I know to be intelligent and thoughtful believe some part or, in some cases, the whole package of lies we've been fed by the Trump administration and its supporters in the past four years," he remarks. "Especially with what's happened since the election, it's remarkable to see people that I respect say, 'Maybe there's something to it.' No, there's nothing to it."
Although Falling isn't a political story, it does offer a wrenching portrait of how familial bonds can fray. In the film, Mortensen plays John Peterson, a gay man who grew up in the shadow of his domineering, homophobic father, Willis (Henriksen). Now suffering from dementia, Willis requires constant attention, and John makes the difficult choice to be his primary caretaker. Mortensen — who says that he's cared for multiple family members with dementia — doesn't pull punches on his depiction of how Willis's disease only exarcerbates his anger, making him nearly impossible to communicate with. "One of the things we set out to do was ask, 'Are there people you just can't talk to? Are there people that don't deserve to be communicated with?'" he explains. "I happen to think you can always try."
Just as Mortensen drew on his own experience with dementia to write and direct Falling, Henriksen looked back at his turbulant upbringing to portray Willis. In his 2011 autobigoraphy, Not Bad for a Human, the Aliens star described a childhood marked by abuse, abandonment and stints in foster care. "I used stuff from my past as a child, and it opened a door," Henriksen says. "This is not a chocolate factory movie. It's got a lot of things in it that are going to draw out [different emotions] in people. There's not one who gets through this life unscathed, and there are as many stories as there are families."
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