Friday, July 15, 2011

I am not economically viable, I am obsolete

If ever there was a relevant time to rediscover a film, the time is now, and the film is 1993’s Falling Down. An insightful masterwork of well executed, stirring set pieces tied together by a haunting (and underrated) performance by Michael Douglas as Bill Foster, Falling Down is a film that provokes strong polarizing reactions.

It is a movie that holds up a mirror to the world around us. And not everyone will like what they see.
Falling Down tells the story of a distraught and recently displaced  loner. The movie shares a similar structure and nihilistic tone to the book  Action Figure.

Joel Schumacher is known today only as the persona non-grata who was demonized by fan boys everywhere for wrecking the Batman franchise before Christopher Nolan resurrected it in 2005. But back in 1993 Schumacher was a confident filmmaker at the top of his game and hot off of two artistic and commercial triumphs, The Lost Boys (1987) and Flatliners (1990).

Falling Down opens with a harrowing, brilliantly shot and executed sequence that sets the stage for Michael Douglas’s William “D-fens” Foster’s meltdown as he bursts out his car and says “I’m going home.”
Two standout scenes resonate long after the credits end and stay burned into the consciousness of the viewer.
The first is Bill Foster’s disturbing encounter with the homo-phobic racist neo-Nazi owner of an Army Surplus store. The scene is more terrifying and real today than ever before. One can easily imagine this neo-Nazi listening to Rush Limbaugh daily, worshipping at the altar of Glenn Beck, and showing up at the fringe extreme of a Tea Party rally.
The other unforgettable encounter is when Bill Foster hides out in the pool house of a plastic surgeon with the family of groundskeeper who he walked in on using the pool.
It is here that Bill Foster tries so desperately to connect to the idealized family he wants back but never really had. The scene is a showcase for the talents of Michael Douglas. The aching pain he makes us feel during a beautifully written monologue demonstrates why this film is Douglas’s best performance.
And speaking of writing, the screenplay by Ebbe Roe Smith is a brilliant portrayal of the hero’s journey in reverse. It is clean, precise storytelling at its most efficient and most effective.

It is interesting to note that the only sense of optimism is provided by the Prendergast character played by Robert Duvall. He is in many ways on the same journey as the Bill Foster character. But when Robert Duvall’s Prendergast goes on his “rampage” and punches out an annoying co-worker, tells off his nagging wife, and stands up to his bullying Police Captain boss ("fuck you very much Captain"), there is a sense of exhilaration for both the character and the audience.
Robert Duvall’s character will at last get to become the cop on the street and be re-united with his true love, his partner Rachel Ticotin. Her character is perhaps the only unselfish and truly likable character in a world of angry haters.
But unlike Bill Foster’s doomed fate, Prendergast’s redemption is Hollywood baloney and is quickly forgotten by the audience. What does linger in the mind is the disturbing sadness that resonates on the home video tape still playing on as the credits start to roll to James Newton Howard’s haunting music (one of the great unreleased soundtracks of all time).
A lost family from a past that never can be recaptured by a man who is no longer “economically viable”, and has no reason to go on. There really is no place in our society for a childless forty year old man who is “over-educated and under skilled”. So you might as well take on your enemies as they approach you one at a time until you end up floating in the water with a bullet in you. You are obsolete. You are not “economically viable”.
There is no place in this world for you. So why are you still breathing anyway?
Falling Down holds up a mirror to society around us and what we see is not pretty. But in an era when thirty million people hang on every word Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann say, the hate merchants dominate the airwaves and become overnight millionaires, and raging Tea Party Patriots and armed militias threaten to “take back their country”; it is a film that is more relevant than ever before.

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