No. 4, March 2000
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

Falling Down
Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall,
Barbara Hershey,
Rachel Ticotin, Tuesday Weld.
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Falling Down (1993) is one of the best films made by director Joel Schumacher (8mm, The Jury, The Client, St. Elmos Fire, Flatliners, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin). This dark comedy has inspired Quentin Tarantino to create a scene in Pulp Fiction. Falling Down is about a man who goes insane on a hot day summer day in Los Angeles. It is also a caricature of America in the 1990s, with its racial, social and economic problems. It is a portrait of middle class society, its angst and neurotic behavior. We can see homeless people and other dark sides of the "American success story". But social and other criticism is not in the center of the film, and the action becomes more and more dominant as the story unfolds.
 
Bill (Michael Douglas) is the ordinary white collar middle class guy. He drives a car with the license plate "D-FENS" which tells you all about him. Stuck in a traffic jam, he first tries to stay cool, but slowly becomes nervous. Noisy children in a bus, a man yelling into his cell-phone, a defunct air conditioner, a disturbing fly buzzing around his head. He starts fighting the fly with his newspaper. After a panic attack, he opens the door of his car and steps out. D-FENS needs a break and some fresh air. His decision is clear: "I'm going home".
 
Later we learn that he is a former defense plant rocket engineer who probably got laid off. Although he looks as if he was just heading for his office, he is out of a job. He is separated from his wife and only daughter. He does not have the right to see his girl - and its her birthday today. The anger of D-FENS towards society slowly grows as he is confronted with America's dark sides on his way "home" - he still lives in the past and cannot accept the separation from his family.
 
First, D-FENS calls his ex-wife, but does not have the courage to speak to her. He hangs up, but wants to call her again. In need of change, he goes to a small shop nearby. The Korean owner tells him: "No change. Have to buy something." D-FENS gets a Coke out of a fridge. "Eighty-fie sen", says the Korean. D-FENS: "I don't understand." The Korean repeats it and D-FENS realizes this does not help him. He needs 50 cents for the phone. He gets angry at the Korean who does not want to give him the change he wants. "You go now! No trouble!" But D-FENS refuses to go. The shop owner tries to grab a baseball bat hidden behind the counter. A fight starts and D-FENS gains control. With the baseball bat in his hand, he wants the the prices of 1965 valid again and he starts destroying different products; today's prices don't suit him. In the end he gets the Coke for 50 cents, pays and walks away, with the baseball bat in his hand.
 
The story is slowly heating up. D-FENS encounters two Latinos on his way "home". The two gangsters tell him that he is trespassing on private property. D-FENS gets into an argument with them. They want his briefcase. He refuses and fights them successfully with his baseball bat. In the end, he continues his walk "home" - now with a knife from the Latinos in his pocket.
 
The going gets tougher as the story continues. Later, D-FENS gets hold of automatic weapons, has an encounter with a neo-nazi, etc. His counterpart is Prendergast (Robert Duvall). He is a cop on his last day of duty. For years, he has been working behind a desk. His superior dislikes him for that but Prendergast just gave in to his wife's fears: she does not want him on the streets exposed to everday dangers. Prendergast accepts his premature retirement  in order to leave town with his wife who wants to go to a place she thinks is heaven - an illusion, as Prendergast tells his partner at the office. But he does not oppose the will of his hysterical and hypochondriac wife - to calm her down he sings London Bridge is Falling Down (from My Fair Lady) over the phone.
 
The black comedy ends in a classic showdown between the Sheriff and the bad guy, as D-FENS says himself to Prendergast at the end of the film when the two men meet. D-FENS is ready to die: "My little girl can get the [life] insurance." Falling Down is not as convincing as Fargo or as Jackie Brown, but it can be seen as a kind of predecessor to them and to Pulp Fiction. Anyway, with Michael Douglas as D-FENS, Falling Down is a film to watch.
 


 
 

No. 4, March 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.