William Foster has had it. His wife has taken custody of his child; his car has broken down in a thick traffic jam; he’s been laid off at work. He’s examined what’s wrong with society, and he’s had it. Foster goes on a subsequent violent rampage through Los Angeles righting the wrongs he thinks society has done him, hoping to reach is ex-wife’s home in order to give his daughter her birthday present; all the while attracting the attention of a old cop who is a day away from retiring. Bill runs from both cops and his insanity to keep focused before his bridge with reality begins to fall down.
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Rational insanity, if there is such a term, is what I think of after watching Falling Down. Out of all the crime or chase dramas I’ve seen, this one is particularly thought-provoking. The film’s content is hard to be irrelevant, as we still see some of the issues address prevailing today. It’s a film that makes you think. When we look at the characters, the differences between them as well as the similarities, we’re compelled to examine the choices they make and the consequences of those choices. It’s only then did I understand the film, and I realized it indeed made me think for a while. Joel Schumacher’s career as a director is shaky, but he does generate good cinema from time to time. With Falling Down, Schumacher does well in making us exercise and question our opinions on society.
The interesting thing that this film provides is a comparison between personalities. With the character of Prendergast, this comparison is evident throughout, and creates the effective climax that the film comes to. Prendergast, who we are introduced to in the same scene Foster takes off from the road, is a cop who, on his last day, must find Foster during his rampage across Los Angeles. The pitting against of these two men is what drives the concept home. While Prendergast is trying to catch Foster as he continues his rampage, we are exposed to his personal and professional life as well. His neurotic wife is domineering and his co-workers tease him constantly. His boss comes off as welcoming, but we soon learn it’s a facade and he shares with Prendergast his disgust towards verbally passive men; a sign of weakness. As Prendergast gathers clues towards Foster’s identity—despite his co-workers passing it off as last-day paranoia—he remains assertive and confident in trying to track him down. When we understand Prendergast, we start to understand the film as well.
The climax of the film is an enlightening moment. It impressed me that the filmmaking style that Schumacher went for complemented its final showdown so perfectly. While most of the film focuses on the stops that Foster makes during his rampage, it’s accompanied by Prendergast’s phone conversations with his mentally unstable wife and encounters with his hateful boss. As well, when Foster’s child is introduced, we learn that Prendergast also has a child, only nowhere to be seen. When we do discover where is daughter is, it only further accompanies the dramatic effect of the final showdown. It was those last sequences which really made the whole film come together and makes the viewers think and from their own opinions. The film’s final moments are Schumacher’s best direction, and both Duvall and Douglas perform with expert effectiveness.
Equally touched upon—possibly meant to be equally thought about—is the sadness that Foster feels. The feeling I get from seeing Foster is that of a reasonable man forced to do unreasonable things. What society as done to him, who those he loved have done to hurt him, and what the world thinks of him all accumulate into the face we see at the beginning of the film. Yet, it’s not a face of hatred. I don’t picture Foster as hating society; he’s sad that society betrayed him. “I’m going home,” was his response to an annoyed motorist. All he wanted to do was go home, to a wife that rejects him, and a daughter that forgets him. As Ebert puts it, “the core sadness of his soul” is what drives this film. When he is viewing archived tapes of his daughter’s birthdays, the camera cuts closely on his smiling face. His wife has taken his daughter to the nearby pier, in fear of him reaching their home. The tapes, however, start to grow stressed, and implications of Foster’s temper become apparent. As that happens, Foster and the audience are brought back to his reality, and what must do to make things right.
With the reflections of society and the comparisons between Prendergast and Foster; combined with the witnessing of one man’s self-destruction can be an overwhelming thing to watch. However, it can spark discussion and thinking in its audience, and become a film worth watching, because of the thought it provokes and the commentary it provides. Falling Down is a film not to be watched for pure enjoyment, but rather for a display of filmmaking with a purpose. This film wanted to explain how easy it is for one to lose their grasp on reality, and why we should value what we have, because losing those values could mean passing the “point of no return.”