Falling Down: A Critical Look At The Film Essay, Research Paper
Rush Hour Traffic. Urban Decay. Rudeness and ill will towards our common man. A society clearly coming apart at its seams. And worst of all, you can?t get your hash browns at the local fast-food restaurant because they stopped serving breakfast 3 minutes ago. We?ve all experienced these types of frustrations in varying degrees, and probably felt some sort of primal urge to retaliate at what we perceive as a deliberate and malicious affront to our person. Well in Falling Down, William Foster (expertly played by Michael Douglas) does just that.
The film opens to a close-up of Foster, imprisoned in his sweltering car during his commute, or rather, lack thereof. The highway has become a parking lot, and rudeness pervades from all sides, in the forms of honking horns and profanity. We gain a real sense of the building tension, as we hear a super-imposed heartbeat over the soundtrack. Visually, the shots are dominated with warm colors, oranges and yellows. The pressure intensifies to near emergency levels, as the audience is certain that a panic attack is inevitable, and then? the door opens and Foster quietly walks away from his gridlocked vehicle. In response to a fellow irate motorist, he simply says, ?I?m going home.?
So begins Foster?s journey, or rather descent into madness. In his exploits he encounters every type of meaningless transgression, each taking a higher toll on his sanity. He blows up at a price-gouging Korean grocer who refuses to give change for a phone call, and vandalizes the store. When confronted by violent gang members, he lashes out at his assailants and effectively defends himself. When refused service at a burger chain, his needs are only met after brandishing an automatic weapon. All the while we the viewers are cheering him on, eccentrically righteous in his quest to right these inane wrongs.
As the story progresses however, a much darker nature is revealed, as his destination is the home of his daughter and ex-wife, both of whom he is prohibited from seeing under a restraining order. He stops several times to call, each time becoming increasingly threatening. As the police become involved, it draws the attention of Detective Prendergast, played by Robert Duvall. On his last day before retirement, the detecive has seen the same societal woes that have pushed this man to the edge, and at times comes close to sympathizing with him.
What remains most disconcerting throughout the course of the movie, is the demeanor taken on by Douglas?s character. No matter the situation, Foster never seems to fit. He displays a strange calm when being targeted in a drive-by shooting, barely acknowledging the hail of bullets all around him. When the entire restaurant is paralyzed in fear of the machine gun held above his head, he cracks jokes, to the amusement of noone. But what is most awry in his character is the overwhelming calm, and deep sadness rising to the surface. He makes it quite clear that he has done all he can trying to live a normal, rational life, and since losing all the things once anchoring him down (his family, his job, sense of self-worth), he find that it?s much easier to be pushed to the brink.
There is an interesting juxtaposition of characters between Foster and Prendergast. Early on, it appears Foster is the champion of the victimized common man, who attempts to stand up for what he believes is right, at any cost. Around the halfway point, we realize however that Foster is a deeply troubled man, and as a result of being immersed in such depravity, he too has become depraved, transforming from a concerned advocate for rationality to an intense machine, until at long last he realizes he has passed the point of no return and asks ?I?m the bad guy? How did this happen?? Conversely, Prendergast becomes more human as the story progresses, as we learn about how he has stayed strong throughout a life of personal crises.
Overall, I enjoyed this film immensely and would recommend it to an older audience, who has the maturity and experience in dealing with life?s aggravations and can grasp and appreciate the feelings that are evoked from such a startling piece of cinema. A fine job of directing by Joel Schumaker, this movie strikes a nerve deep within the audience and raises the questions of morality in our society, and how an ordinary person may react if pushed to the edge, in grave danger of falling down.