The Logic of Falling Down

‘The Logic of Falling Down’ sounds like the title of a collection of short stories.  This is not a collection of short stories but a look into the 1993 film Falling Down.  The title of the film itself is full of deception; is it in reference to the mental break of the main character? Or the collapse of a heavily capitalist society?  Or neither? At one point during the film I was almost certain someone was going to say Falling Down, and when they didn’t I felt sort of lead on.  The film is tricky and far more open than I thought it would be, with a real mix of morality throughout.  To understand it, I have chosen to carefully examine the two main characters of the film.

The Player

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Michael Douglas has a vast filmography and his role of D-Fens in Falling Down stands alone as his most troubled performance.  The character is the focus of the film, being the driving force as a disenfranchised defence engineer, who has recently lost his job and family.  However, apart from that, we don’t know much about him.  Even as the film progresses, his background and current life is shrouded in mystery, which in turn makes his moments of screen very singular.  It also adds a sense of confusion within the film, as both the audience and the rest of the characters struggle to work him out.  What are his motives?  The desire to be reunited with his wife and young child is certainly top of the list but there’s a feeling that he wants more than that.  There’s a dreaminess to him and an idea that he craves something beyond his reach.

His violent outbursts begin simply enough, leaving his car in a traffic jam in search of a phone booth.  From a lack of change, he begins an harassment on a Korean shopkeeper. This is the first point of the film where the morality of D-Fens is questioned, and put under investigation.  Quickly, we are put into a film where our protagonist is no hero, yet no villain.  He becomes an anti-hero with almost no likeability.  This is down to his seamless aggression, and his varying levels of race hatred.  He slides into that category of the frustrated racist, the ‘migrants are stealing American jobs’ kind of guy.  For some portion he becomes a sort of Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) type character, being upset with the cleanliness and poverty of his city.  Therefore this creates a character study film that is a look at a clearly deranged person.  A deranged person whose anger is amplified as the film goes on.

Recently an LA Weekly article was written about whether or not audiences (particularly white audiences) understood that D-Fens was the baddie in the film.  The film was released in a post Rodney King and LA riots world, which would lead me to the believe that perhaps a 90’s audience had very radical take on the film.  Did a scared 90’s white audience sympathise with D-Fens?  Were they disgusted by him, or rooting for him?  I would suggest that whatever they thought, the film would play very differently in 2017. My easily triggered mind was took back by some of D-Fens attitudes in the film, yet director Joel Schumacher never appears biased in anyway.  As far as I can tell, it is not a racist white revenge film, and is directly pointing at what frustration and abandonment can lead to.

The Reactor

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Robert Duvall is a legendary screen presence and he solidly plays Detective Prendergast in this film.  I can’t tell you how much I love that name.  His role brings a whole new set of issues that are distant from D-Fens.  It’s his last day on the job and he too has mysteries about him.  His daughter died young, his wife appears somewhat hysterical, and for the last years of his career he has been stuck to his desk, due to a shooting incident he was involved in.  The motive behind his reaction to D-Fens’ rampage is a sense of duty, and not leaving things unfinished.  There is a hero like quality to him, and a likeability that is absent from D-Fens.  Consequently his character and scenes become almost separate from the D-Fens plot, adding another layer to the film.

What is interesting is that his character is revolved around ageing and moving on, rather than being lost or not letting go.  He is a complete juxtaposition to D-Fens’ want for everything to go back to the way it was.  Prendergast is accepting in his fate, he understands his wives anguish, and his sudden numbness to the job.  This means that when the two characters finally meet, it is a mighty but calm showdown.  Instantly we are aware of the hero and villain.  Prendergast carefully dissects D-Fens and his plan to murder his family before killing himself.  This sets in stone a good and evil battle, rather than shades of grey.  It means the film has a satisfying climax, whilst also leaving unanswered questions.

Prendergast serves as foil for D-Fens and a means to an end to his crazed onslaught. However what the film does well is bring in new themes for this character so that he is not sidelined.  It balances the narrative out nicely and allows the film to be entertaining on a visceral level, rather than just a conceptual one.

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This film is a gripping watch on the surface.  It can be boiled down to a cat and mouse feature, with 80’s action sensibilities dripping into it.  The story is bold and interesting, in a world where there are more than two sides to the coin.  Looking deeper, it can viewed as picture about capital dominance.  A film about the risks of a corporate push for globalism, and the forgetting of the little guys.  D-Fens is the little guy in a suit, plagued by the heat and the sadness of losing everything he lived for.  It is a origin story of violence, of hatred and hopefully a lesson that everyone is always at the edge.

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