“Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head. It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”
So said Grandmaster Flash, but it might as well have been the biography of a day in the life of William Foster. Sitting in sweltering heat on a gridlocked Los Angeles road, he just gives up, gets out of his car and walks away. This would start a chain of events that charts a journey of desperation, madness and a rebellion against the modern world.
Foster is not really that stable. As the movie progresses, we discover things about the character that show he’s been crossing the lines of sanity for a while now. Yet still there is something endearing about the character, something we can all relate to. Sitting in traffic is one thing. Store attendants refusing to simply give change without buying something is another. During his journey Foster lays bare our frustrations against crime, the stupidly wealthy, country clubs and how fast food never looks as good as it appears in the photos. Foster is an everyman about to turn crazy man as he walks towards the home of his ex-wife and their daughter.
Slowly chasing him down is Detective Prendergast, a man with his own complicated and morbid life. He is about to retire from the police force, but not really by his own choice. He is doing to so stay with his wife, a neurotic agoraphobe who cannot get over the loss of their child. His young lover tries to change his mind, despite the callus and uncaring professional career they find themselves in. Prendergast gets no respect, partly because he would rather avoid confrontation than make himself heard. Then he catches the scent of Foster’s slow amble through the urban jungle and the chaos that falls in his wake.
Falling Down is considered by many as Joel Schumacher’s best movie. That says something: yes, Schumacher was responsible for the worst of the Batman movies, but he also directed thought-provoking hits like The Lost Boys and Phone Booth. Yet Falling Down strikes a different chord. It looks at a modern world where meaning is lost and the pressures of society never deliver on the rewards promised. It’s a movie about a society feeling duped and abused. This was more than a little insightful: the infamous Los Angeles riots took place during this movie’s filming.
Today Foster and Prendergast’s entwining stories resonate strongly. Falling Down taps into a type of anger that seems to permeate the air of today’s societies, that same anger that spark service delivery protests, the London riots, the angry mobs in Brazil’s streets. It is true that Foster turns out to be a bit more mental than your average person, but we do catch him on one particular bad day. It’s not hard to imagine that he was once a normal guy like everyone else, with his own collection of quirks and bad traits, but slowly his composure and humanity was eroded away. Certainly the Foster of the first two acts is a guy we can all relate with and only his final downward spiral tends to leave audiences a bit confused.
But that was perhaps the point: it’s all too easy to assume that bad things are done by bad people, not normal people who simply start coping with the world in a bad way. Some critics hate Falling Down for its blatantly obvious message and general lack of subtlety, rolled into a very dark comedy blanket. But some things can’t be said with a few surgical strikes. Some messages require a big hammer. Falling Down‘s brute force remains as fresh and relevant today as it did over 20 years ago.[/column] [column size=one_half position=last ] [/column]
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Last Updated: February 9, 2015