Falling Down (1993)

In the early 1990s a phrase arose: going postal.  It has kind of faded out of use because recent years mass shootings have involved a wide arrange of people that typically go in and attack schools.  Back in the 1990s, however, there were a number of times when people just snapped, with the most visible being disgruntled postal workers.  In fact, that is where most of the American population learned the word "disgruntled" from. 

The phrase arose in a dark-humored manner and there is certainly plenty of dark humor in Falling Down.  What many of these situations had in common, though, was someone who came in, did their shift and did what they were told, suddenly snapped once everything started falling apart in their lives.  The targets were sometimes malls and restaurants, but often it was their former co-workers and managers.  In many cases it was older white males who felt betrayed because they felt they had followed the rules and, for whatever reason, the society they served abandoned them.  As usual there were also psychological factors, and in most cases what happened to them was of their own doing, but the idea of the "everyman" suddenly snapping became a trend.  

William Foster (Michael Douglas) reaches his boiling point one day while stuck in a Los Angeles traffic jam with no AC and windows that won't open.  He exits his vehicle and heads off on foot, deciding he is going to forget about whatever his destination was and go home.  Home, in his mind, is his where he used to live with his ex-wife (Barbara Hershey) and daughter (Joey Singer), whose birthday it happens to be.  The problem is that his ex-wife has a restraining order against him and has made it clear she doesn't want to see him.  

It is also the last day on the force for robbery detective Prendergast (Robert Duvall) who is taking early retirement and moving with his wife (Tuesday Weld) to Lake Havasu, Arizona.  A peaceful last day is interrupted first when Foster attacks a Korean-owned convenience store over its prices and then raises the ire of Hispanic gang members, who stage drive-by to get him.  They miss, and they inadvertently supply him with a gym bag full of guns.  At this point, feeling powerful for the first time in years, he begins to violently lash out at the little things that irritate him while working his way to his daughter's birthday party in Venice.  Meanwhile, Prendergast starts putting things together, although his theories fall on deaf ears except for one coworker, Sandra (Rachel Ticotin), who trusts him enough to help him stop Foster from reaching his destination.

Falling Down benefited from the events happening in the United States at the time, but also was severely undercut by bad marketing.  It wasn't bad in a way that it turned people off from seeing it but, in concentrating on scenes like his frustration with not being able to order off the breakfast menu three minutes past the switchover due to "policy" and anger about unnecessary street repairs holding up traffic, it made Foster look like a vigilante hero.  Thus, when his opening anti-immigrant rant in the convenience store against the Korean owner (Michael Paul Chan) got attention in the wake of the L.A. riots - in which Koreans were targeted - it created a boycott from the Korean community and a ban on the movie in South Korea.  

The problem with the way Falling Down was presented is that writer Ebbe Roe Smith and director Joel Schumacher, as well as Michael Douglas, never sought to portray Foster as a hero.  As we get to know him it is obvious that he thinks he is smarter than he is, holds conflicting racial views and, worst of all, has shown a growing tendency toward violence throughout a good portion of his life.  Like most people who did snap he never took the time to look at himself, but rather blamed family, bosses and society for his bad luck.  Foster may be the focus, but Prendergast, played wonderfully by Robert Duvall, is his balance.  He has been through a lot as well, particularly the disdain of his boss and his coworkers for taking himself off the street in order to appease his neurotic wife.  Despite being good at what he does he falls short in everyone else's eyes for not living up to what they think is a man or a police officer. 

Falling Down is much more than just an exploitation film playing off of current events.  It was filmed in the days up to and, once it was cleared to film again, in the days after the L.A. riots following the Rodney King verdict.  Much of the growing and residual tension can be seen in the background as Joel Schumacher filmed this throughout Los Angeles, and it has little moments like the "not economically viable" protestor scattered throughout.  It does have the big scenes of the little guy getting revenge against modern society, but tempered with the fact that the little guy is someone who has, as he even puts it, crossed the point of no return. 

It gets unfairly dismissed by a number of people these days for being unnecessarily violent (there is little actual killing in the film) and being racist (which Foster is whether he will admit it or not).  Despite its straightforward theme it has a lot of nuance that is lost due to knee-jerk reactions, including conservatives who thought the movie was mocking them.  It is clearly an older film, taking place in a Los Angeles that has also changed over the years, but the themes of societal isolation combined with a lack of a mental health safety net and a stigma against seeking it out when needed hasn't changed.  Mass shootings still persist, but they often come with an aura of clout chasing, with the same guns and the same targets in a desperate attempt to get fame.  

The people like William Foster still get lost in all this, banging out treatises in the dark corners of the internet and hate-watching live action Disney films.  The message of the film was that these people exist and, no matter what their views, pose a danger to society, and are one step away from crossing that line.  I know Smith had some convoluted point to make about capitalism and the changing world, but the true takeaway is that those that keep warning that we need to take these people seriously are treated just like Prendergast.  

Falling Down (1993)
Time: 113 minutes
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey
Director: Joel Schumacher



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