Starring Michael Douglas as Bill Foster, Falling Down is, on the surface, about how much one man can take before he loses it. But underneath the clever quips and expensive explosions, this film is a prediction of what the ’90s would birth: hyperconsumerism, inflation, joblessness, diversity culture and an entire generation of children alienated from their fathers.
Whether the audience saw Bill Foster as the film’s villain or victim remains up for debate 26 years later, however, one thing many viewers can agree on is the film’s criticism of a failing family law system, whereby mothers are empowered to get unwarranted restraining orders against their childrens’ fathers and deny them shared custody, all while collecting child support. The entire story is the character’s journey to see his estranged daughter on her birthday, while her mother tells him she will have him arrested if he shows up. One scene captures this tragedy perfectly, when a police officer asks Foster’s ex wife why she took out a restraining order against him. The officer becomes visibly frustrated as the woman explains that while her ex-husband never drank, did drugs or abused her, he “got a look like he might hit her.”
Another motif Schumacher captures in vivid detail is the beginning of the cultural “enrichment” we’re told daily to embrace unquestioningly. Full dissertations could stem just from the glimpses we get of a Tropic Sun billboard emblazoned with the company’s 1990 tagline: “White is for laundry.” White privilege was already a liberal talking point in 1993, and the Rodney King riots going on mere blocks from the film’s set are a fitting irony. Even then African Americans and immigrants masked their entitlement and racism under a veil of nuanced liberal ideology and not-so-subtle passive aggressiveness. Perhaps my favorite depiction of this is Foster’s altercation with the Korean convenience store owner. He simply wants to break a dollar so he can use the phone booth to call his ex-wife, and the store owner informs him he’ll have to buy something to get change. Looking for presumably the cheapest item in the store, as well as something to cool him off after a trek through the smoggy Los Angeles summer heat, Foster grabs a can of Coke from the cooler, only to have the owner tell him the soda costs 85 cents, which won’t leave him enough change for the phone call. Foster becomes frustrated by the man’s callous rudeness and his broken English, and proceeds to stand up for his “rights as a consumer” by redecorating the store with a baseball bat. Of course, he still pays for his soda on the way out, because he’s not a thief, he’s just a father trying to see his kid. And he’s thirsty. Straight white men can only be alright with hating themselves for so long until this “white rage” we keep hearing about becomes a very real thing.
Today, Falling Down remains one of Hollywood’s most overt yet morally complex depictions of the modern victimization culture, where villains recast themselves as victims of social inequality. The film’s director provides one of the most cynical scenes ever with the worst case example of a homeless man who lies about being a Veteran, won’t even accept a briefcase filled with food and probably just wants money for booze. The homeless man, who becomes enraged at Foster for seeing through his lies demands he give him one of his bags to offset the perceived injustice of Foster having two bags, while he has none is one of many examples throughout the film of the self-proclaimed victims of the “evils” that are Capitalism and white men. Once Foster rewards the bum with his briefcase, the man is angry when he discovers it only contains food.
Perhaps it was a steady diet of #JusticePorn movies, or maybe the proliferation of the internet and social media. Maybe it was the realization that going to college and working hard doesn’t guarantee you the American Dream. Whatever the catalyst, people are so disconnected from each other and bored with their 9-5 cubicle lives they fantasize about zombie uprisings and civil wars. This is why Sky King and Killdozer have become heroes. We see ourselves and our own disillusionment encompassed by the average joe rejecting the bland life that has been fated to them. Maybe I’m a cynic and I identify with Bill Foster, a man who’s had enough (with everything) and just wants to get to his daughter’s birthday party. Maybe I’m also just a nice and honest old soul who relates well to Duvall’s retiring cop, Sgt. Prendergast – except I do curse on occasion (or pretty goddamn often).
For many, Bill Foster represents a silent majority of men who are so disgusted by the world they live in, they long for civil unrest, a zombie apocalypse…any respite from the cultural cattle chute of postmodernism. In the current year, we are less like men and more like cattle, walking daily to the slaughter.