"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

Falling Down

tn_fallingdownJoel Schumacher’s FALLING DOWN (1993) is a movie I’ve always hated for what I thought it was saying. Watching it again a couple decades later I think I was partly wrong. Maybe even mostly wrong. But I still can’t get all the way on board. I’ll try to explain why.

Michael Douglas plays a defense industry office drone in L.A. who one morning gets stuck in traffic, loses his shit, decides to abandon his car and walk home. And along the way he decides to go nuclear on anyone he thinks is wronging him. This includes gang members who try to collect a toll for him sitting on their rock and a Neo-Nazi (Frederic Forrest, VALLEY GIRL) who shows him his weapons cache, but also a convenience store clerk, the staff and patrons of a fast food restaurant and random construction workers. As he travels he builds up an arsenal by taking people’s weapons, like a video game that didn’t exist yet at that time.

(He’s credited as “D-FENS” after his vanity license plate, but they find out his name is William Foster, so that’s what I’ll refer to him as.)

We learn that “home” is actually his ex-wife Beth(Barbara Hershey)’s house, where he wants to see his daughter Adele (Joey Hope Singer) on her birthday, but he’s not welcome there. His calls become increasingly creepy, but the police won’t listen to Beth. The protagonist is Prendergast (Robert Duvall), a desk jockey cop on his last day before retirement who figures out a pattern of incidents and tries to catch this guy, without the support of the department or his antsy wife (Tuesday Weld). Like Emilio Estevez in JUDGMENT NIGHT we’re eventually shown that trying to be nice to his wife is holding him back and we’re supposed to cheer him on when he tells her to shut up.

It works out well that the two main characters are just wearing dress shirts and ties. Other than the lack of cell phones and the fact that the can of soda that sort of starts his rampage is a Coca-Cola Classic (red white and you) it seems fairly timeless. On the other hand there are a few important background details that do specifically place it in the early ’90s:

#3: MC Hammer posters during climactic showdown

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#2: Arsenio Hall Show billboard

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#1: Promotional Sir-Mix-a-Lot inflatable ass!

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In fact I’m surprised there’s not a part where a dude pulls up playing Young MC really loud on a car radio or boombox and Foster rants about how it’s not really music. I am positive that he is uncomfortable with the direction pop culture is going. But what I didn’t get back in the days of baby having back and Hammer not hurting ’em is that this is mostly meant as a critique of a type of middle class white paranoia that continues to be a phenomenon today. This guy yearns for the old days, we hear it in his complaints and see it in his haircut. To him “the old days” is before he was exposed to other races and classes, and he includes their existence on his list of urban stresses. One thing driving him crazy when he’s stuck in traffic is a school bus full of noisy kids. Right before he snaps there’s a series of shots of specific kids, one Asian, the rest black. Later he almost gets onto a city bus but he gets bumped around in the crowd of black people clamoring to get on the bus, and he decides to walk away. He starts his rampage after arguing with a Korean convenience store clerk (Michael Paul Chan, RAPID FIRE) who he thinks doesn’t speak English well enough. He’s mad because the clerk won’t give him change for the phone and then because he wants to buy a can of Classic Coke and thinks it’s overpriced. The stereotypical Latin gang members we’ll give him a freebie on since they started it, with a switchblade of course. (They’re unarmed when he beats them up, then come back with a big bag full of machine guns and shit for, obviously, a drive-by.)

Ironically, if he was willing to overlook racial and class differences and take the time to talk to his fellow Los Angelenos he would find out that he has more in common with them than he thinks. Or even if he just listened to their songs:

Considering all of Foster’s interactions with minorities it’s no wonder the Neo-Nazi running the army surplus store tells him they’re the same. And I realize now that that’s the point. He thinks he’s against bigotry when he sees it in this guy, he can’t see that he’s part of the same continuum.

Yes, as Douglas explains on the DVD commentary track, “This man is nuts. He is out of his mind.” The movie isn’t saying he’s doing the right thing. However, I think it would be a little disingenuous to pretend that we the audience aren’t supposed to get some kind of satisfaction from the targets he chooses to go crazy on. And I believe this scene has a tell tale sign in it. Here is a guy we’ve seen incensed by black children and adults, Latinos and Asians, yet when the store owner is being bigoted toward a gay couple he seems offended. They’re the rare minority characters in this movie who are not played broadly, and they also have something in common with him since they get angry at how a business is treating them and trash some of the merchandise. (Much more deserved here than any time Foster does it.)

It has always bothered me that this character fumes at almost every minority but sympathizes with the one the director happens to be a member of. Depiction is not endorsement, but this detail seems fishy.

mp_fallingdownOf course Schumacher and the movie don’t agree with Foster’s rampage. But doesn’t it feel like he’s supposed to be an anti-hero, with a certain amount of I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-gonna-take-it-anymore wish fulfillment in some (most?) of the things he does? It seems to me like he’s supposed to be a populist hero when he chews out old rich guys on a golf course or when he storms a mansion barbecue but calms down when he realizes it’s the groundskeeper, not the owner. And the only black character he maybe sympathizes with is “Not Economically Viable Man” (Vondie Curtis-Hall, director of WAIST DEEP), a guy protesting outside a savings and loan that denied him a loan. He has this resentment of the richer-than-him who have used the system unfairly, yet his biggest hissy fits are saved for service people and the working class.

I think there’s supposed to be satisfying stick-it-to-the-man-ishness in a similar vein to Curb Your Enthusiasm. But the different is Larry David is usually right. He’s an asshole, but he’s right to be annoyed by little things in life, and it’s fun to see him make assholes squirm. This guy, I would argue, is more out of line. Just because some business’s policy doesn’t fit what he needs at that moment doesn’t mean it has no purpose. Maybe, as Foster thinks, the Korean clerk or store owner Mr. Lee is being a dick by not giving him change for the pay phone. Or maybe he has to have that policy because he has people coming in all day every day asking for change and if he makes exceptions he opens the floodgates. Maybe they’re even the same minorities and panhandlers who Foster hates so much, and maybe Mr. Lee is a total racist too, but not enough that he’s going to say “you know what, usually I have a policy of not doing that but I see that you’re an upstanding, hard working white man with a tie, so I’ll do it for you.” Maybe junkies ask him for change so he’ll open the drawer and they can try to rob him. Or maybe he just needs to keep the change for his business because he’s the only one working and he can’t run to the bank if he runs out from giving it all to the phone company. Who knows?

One thing we do know: he is not responsible for food prices going up since Foster was a kid. He didn’t do that one.

The worst part is the scene at the “Whammy Burger,” where he takes the whole restaurant hostage because they refuse to serve him from the breakfast menu a few minutes after the cutoff time. This is clearly supposed to be a really relatable situation where we go “I know, why do they fucking do that, they are so mean to me!” But I don’t think it’s very common for fast food restaurants to have a cutoff time like that, and if they did I think they would have more leeway than that, and if they didn’t he should not be such a fucking baby about it, especially since he ends up changing his mind and wanting a burger anyway after threatening dozens of lives at gunpoint.

It’s really a pet peeve of mine when people are rude or impatient with service people, or if they’re a pain in the ass to waiters, or are picky about what earns a good tip, or like to say the phrase “let me talk to the manager.” If I notice people complain alot in conversations or on social media about the stupid guy at the place that did the thing or got the order wrong or whatever, to me it’s a red flag about their character. If you’re shitty to people who work shitty jobs for shitty pay then you have alot to learn in life and you’re not as good a person as you think you are.

William Foster and the people I’m referring to in the above paragraph just assume that the people working at “Whammy Burger” are stupider than them, because they’re young and they don’t get paid much and they work in a job that’s not considered important (although of course it’s so fucking important to them that they get the specific sandwich they want at that moment). Well, maybe they really are stupid and going nowhere in life. In that case you should be nice to them. Or maybe they’re working their ass off at a job harder than you ever had and saving money to go to school to get a job like the one you used to have but threw away through your own actions.

And anyway if they have a different menu at different times of day they have to have the correct ingredients prepared and equipment available. You don’t fucking know. They’re a business with posted hours, you’ll have to live with it. You are not better than Sheila. The fact that not getting the fast food sandwich you want at that exact moment is crippling to you proves this. If you didn’t get fired from your job for being a crazy asshole Sheila wouldn’t go tell you how to build your bombs to kill people with.

I’m team Whammy Burger, buddy. The customer is not always right, you entitled weiner. You have just proven that.

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I also question the level of paranoia that seems meant to be relatable. After being outraged by a sidewalk and then a street that are closed for construction, Foster decides that nothing is actually being done on the streets, they’re just tearing them apart and putting them back together to make money. And of course the person who he makes answer for this alleged high level conspiracy is just a random construction worker, who first denies it and then acts like he’s been caught red-handed. Foster blows up the street with an RPG (with help from a young kid, who knows how to use them because he’s black, and therefore streetwise) and it’s all played for stick-it-to-the-man chuckles. Are we really supposed to believe that shit?

Early in the movie it seems like we might be supposed to believe that Foster is a nice guy who has been pushed too far. So there’s an uncomfortable moment when an officer who comes to talk to Beth scoffs at finding out she got a restraining order even though he’s never hit her or her kid before, that she just thinks he has the potential for violence. “He could, I think.”

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He suddenly doesn’t believe she’s really in danger. He makes her feel guilty about it. Hershey is excellent in the scene, conveying so many complex emotions with her face. Otherwise it would seem like a smear on her character.

Here, unfortunately, is an example of a person who really liked that scene:

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fd13At the end, when Foster tries to carry through with his threats, we’re definitely supposed to root for Beth and her daughter to get away from him. But this earlier scene seems to play it like “oh come on lady, are you kidding me?” She says that she wasn’t sure about getting a restraining order but the judge wanted to “make an example out of him.” These shitbag Taliban motherfuckers on IMDb would find some fucked up wife-beater way to see it no matter what happened in the scene, but unfortunately they’re not making that shit up out of whole cloth. It’s heavily implied in the scene that the system is giving this guy a raw deal. That she shouldn’t have been allowed to get a restraining order because it wasn’t too late yet.

Of course, the movie ultimately shows that she couldn’t be more absolutely, unequivocally correct about what she said. She saw his temper and possessiveness and worried that he would hurt her and her daughter. Sure enough, he stalks and threatens her, repeatedly ignores pleas to leave her alone, abducts the daughter at gunpoint after going on an all day murder spree and then commits suicide by cop in front of her. Beth was absolutely right, the cop was wrong to be skeptical. But 11 year IMDb member RoadSideAssistance thinks she’s a bitch who should be shot.

Setting aside these creepy reactions to the scene, it makes the most sense to assume it’s a narrative trick, that Schumacher is trying to lure us in with candy and then scold us for our unhealthy diets. But honestly, with the skeptical way the officer reacts it feels like Schumacher just didn’t think about how the scene would connect to the overall story, and decided he was on Foster’s side while filming that. I’m not sure it’s the proper execution of the script by Ebbe Roe Smith (an actor who was in TURNER & HOOCH and stuff, but whose only other writing credits are a 1993 TV movie called PARTNERS and the movie version of CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?)

Here’s the thing. This is better than most Schumacher movies. Duvall and his partner (Rachel Ticotin, TURBULENCE) are likable, interesting takes on cliche characters. Hershey is excellent. It’s a believable portrait of L.A. as hot, dirty hellscape, though many of its inhabitants are painted too broadly for my tastes. Douglas gives a very good performance as a loser seething with anger, and he has some good asshole lines (like when he shoots the gangster who missed him in a driveby and says “There. See? That’s the concept. Get some shooting lessons, asshole.”

By the way, what’s with that scene? They shoot up the block and apparently kill two innocent bystanders, but the bullets all miraculously miss Foster. Jules Winfield would definitely interpret it as an act of God. But why is he protected? I don’t know. All I know is he did not give a single shit about the innocent people, including a woman pushing a stroller, who got shot in his place. He’s so fuckin sensitive about the shit life throws at him, but doesn’t have a thought in the world for anyone else’s suffering, from the people on the street to the ones who serve him his food, to his own family. They’re not people to him, they’re obstacles to him getting what he wants. “I don’t want lunch. I want breakfast!”

And that’s pretty accurate. I think there’s alot of that in this world.

I thought about not posting this review today as planned, because a particularly heinous hate crime happened yesterday and is on alot of people’s minds. I’ve been excited to explore this movie for a while because I thought it would be an interesting discussion, I don’t want to do it now if it’s gonna be a total bummer. But I decided that when something like that happens it shows how important it is to stop and think about the normalization of these kind of attitudes and world views. So I want to end by sharing some of the IMDb user reviews by people who seem to agree a little too much with William Foster’s actions. This is actually a fairly small slice of the “he’s a working class hero!” contingent on there. If you go through those reviews, most of them describe Foster as an “everyman” or “average American,” even though he’s a crazy guy who was fired from his job and legally barred from seeing his own child and ex-wife. It’s also interesting how many of them are written by people from other countries who seem to think this movie depicts what America is really like.

These reactions are not necessarily an indictment of FALLING DOWN, because many great movies are loved by people for the wrong reasons – a good example of that is actually highlighted below – and I don’t think that’s always the movie’s fault or responsibility. I think it falls on us as people to call out shitty attitudes and promote better values. Try to understand people who are different from you, leave your ex-wife alone, don’t feel so entitled, and lay off the fuckin Whammy Burger staff, man. They’re just saving up to get a car to abandon in traffic.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2015 at 12:32 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

85 Responses to “Falling Down”

  1. “It’s really a pet peeve of mine when people are rude or impatient with service people, or if they’re a pain in the ass to waiters, or are picky about what earns a good tip, or like to say the phrase “let me talk to the manager.” ”

    I agree completely, especially because it’s played as a “yay, you tell them Michael Douglas!” kind of scene.

    I’m reminded of the scene in Five Easy Pieces when Nicholson curses out the waitress. My dad always hated that movie for that scene, in part because others found the scene “funny” and “cool.” (Although finally watching that years later, I realize that Nicholson is pretty much a troubled asshole throughout the movie, with that scene merely providing additional proof.)

  2. Perhaps this is just an illustration of the local color in my neck of the woods, but I wonder which film has been more misappropriated to support the confused politics of its supporters, Falling Down or American History X? Falling Down has been out longer, but American History X fans are pretty vocal, espousing a philosophy that seems to be ‘anti-racist/pro-violence.’

  3. Sexy Sheila at the Wammy Burger is played by Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister, DeeDee!

  4. Hey Vern! Thank for a thoughtful review of a movie I enjoyed when it was released. I was much younger then (weren’t we all?) and liked some of the things presented in the film but have never really revisited since developing a more well rounded and critical way of looking at films as more than just entertainment. I think that may be in order.

    Loved the inflatable MixALot prop! Can’t believe I missed that seeing that was one of my top 10 favorite albums around that time.

    I also quoted your ‘pet peeve’ with proper credit to you on my Facebook feed. I hope that’s okay with you, if not I’ll gladly remove it. But it is spot on!

    Keep on with the great, insightful reviews that make me rethink and consider new interpretations of awesome films.

  5. God, I hate that movie so much. It’s basically something that only emo teens in their Ayn Rand phase would consider “clever satire” and that only suburban upper middle class douchebags would consider as “shocking” or “thought provocing”.

  6. Vern – excellent work as always; good to see someone debunk this confused piece of shit.

  7. It wasn’t until I took a job doing phone support for a big video game publisher (you know, the really big “evil” one) that I realized how common it is for people to take their entitled bullshit out on those on the lowest rung. And this movie does nothing but celebrate that shit.

    It reminds me of that video of that asshole berating a girl working at Chik Fila A for working at Chik Fil A. Yeah, you really stuck it to the man, dickhead.

  8. This movie is all over the place. I think the best part about it is how much of L.A. it shows in the background.

    Really tickled by the anonymous imdb reviewer who’s claiming he got “movie memorabilia” when he really just got vanity plates matching those in the movie.

  9. Those reviews are hilarious.

    As a tip earner I appreciate your criticism of his anti-whammy attitude, Vern – though I do think that by this point in the movie we should be pretty sure this guy is a crazy, impatient timebomb. I was, anyway. So even though I sympathized a little bit with his frustration, as soon as he pulled his gun all bets were off. I didn’t laugh (though I did laugh when he made the lady vomit later in the scene “Ohp, we have a critic!”)

  10. Hey Vern,

    I really enjoyed the review and appreciate the fact that you want to have a discussion about the themes it presents. I have always seen the film as a brutal satire of the Baby Boomer, Eisenhower, Reagan-worshiping conservative and the fallacy of the American Dream. To me, Foster represents the overzealous believer. Blinded by his devotion to the idealistic values and morals of the late 40s and 50s. He grew up in a time of Wally and the Beaver, Donna Reed, and John Wayne patriotism. But he fails to see the nostalgia of the past is not the true past. It is the past clouded by naïveté. When the detective goes to see Foster’s mother, he sees a sad home and a broken woman. Foster never had the idealistic family, yet he craves the “old days” because there was the hope of success. His actions and mentality remind of those who are members of The Tea Party and their mantra of “I want my country back”.
    Also, I see the Whammy Burger scene as more a comment on Foster than the fast food industry’s practices and workers. Foster goes on a whole tirade about getting what he wants, making a scene, and asserting dominance over someone he perceives as less than him…. Only, as you point out, to get the burger. Because getting what you want means you have no reason to be angry. He doesn’t have to be angry, he wants to be angry.
    Anyway, these are just some initial thoughts after reading the review. Falling Down is no great film, but it is an odd curiosity that is interesting to dissect.

  11. Fabulous analysis and I agree about people who mistreat service workers. I can’t believe that Sir-Mix-alot balloon!

    Everyman? How many average people work for the defense department. That’s closer to elite than everyman.

  12. It’s been a hell of a long time since I saw this — the year it came out on video, I think — but I remember having the same problem with it that Vern does. The movie wants to have it both ways; you’re supposed to root for D-FENS (sorry, that’s his name in my mind) but at the end you’re supposed to switch and think he’s a crazy person and be glad he’s stopped. Unlike, say, “The Swimmer,” though, the movie doesn’t seem aware that it’s tricking you into rooting for a crazy person. It just decides to change its mind about who it’s rooting for because, you know, you can’t have a big studio movie about a guy going around shooting people that ends without him getting put in his place by a heroic cop. Basically I blame Schumacher. The guy has exactly one solid movie to his credit — I speak of “Lost Boys,” of course — so it’s not that big of a stretch to imagine that he missed any subtle nuances of storytelling that might have been in the original script.

  13. I gotta defend this movie a little.

    First, the scene where D-FENS watches the old home video out of love and nostalgia – yet we hear him in the video getting more and more frustrated and losing his temper – is a clear indication that he is not squeaky clean. He is a guy with issues. It’s debatable whether we’re supposed to regard him as actually violent enough to harm his wife or child, since wanting them safely in his life seems a high priority for him. Yet we can see why they would be scared of him yet also see why he would be unhappy to be pushed away from them. So I see this is a much grayer area than Vern does. (As for the cop regarding the wife with skepticism, to me that just seems like a typical movie convention – the cop who just scoffs because he lacks the audience’s awareness of how serious this is.)

    Second, I don’t fully agree that D-FENS (or the movie) is anti-minority. His one friend on his journey is the black kid who tells him how to use the bazooka. (I thought the kid learned it from movies or video games or something, not because he was gangsta – I don’t think the movie is seriously suggesting that everyone in the hood has bazookas.) Also, D-FENS seems to have equal venom for spoiled rich white people and bigots, and seems equally willing to commit actual violence against those targets.

    Third, D-FENS is very conscious of reserving actual violence for people that deserve it (shades of GOD BLESS AMERICA here). He doesn’t want to injure or even scare the people at the fast food place – he just wants his breakfast sandwich. He doesn’t beat up the Korean grocer as I recall, he just pays what he feels (rightly or wrongly) is a fair price, and even gives change. So his code of justice may be warped but is also very specific. (The one exception is when he lets that rich white golfer die just for being a rich white golfer, something he doesn’t do to any minority characters except the ones who have actually tried to harm him.)

    Finally – and maybe I’m alone in this – I just thought this movie was funny. I think it’s hilarious that this character maintains his polite squareness when you know the rage is boiling underneath. I love the way he calmly tells the wounded gang member “You missed”, and I especially love the painfully strained way he tells the fast food clerk “You know the phrase ‘the customer is always right’? Well … here I am.”

    I guess I never interpreted the Whammy Burger scene as other than a funny moment of the character struggling to be patient when you know that failing to humor this guy will have consequences. And I’m not sure that missing the breakfast cutoff is actually meant to be elevated to the same level of obnoxiousness as layoffs or urban violence. To me the fact that this is something so trivial in comparison is what made the scene funny rather than offensive.

    In short, I remember this movie mainly for the Dilbert-as-Terminator comedic juxtaposition of D-FENS maintaining his serious, dorky facade while on his rampage. Maybe I’ve kind of forgotten the bits where he actually loses his temper.

    Not long ago Vern brilliantly railed against critics who watch movies mainly to fault the politics, without considering an artist’s larger body of work. It’s maybe worth remembering that Michael Douglas’ persona is not exactly that of a Tom Hanks everyman. He’s made a career of playing unlikeable yuppies – some of them villains, and some of them meant to be the protagonist but whose actions or qualities have clearly earned resentment. You don’t necessarily cast Douglas when you want the audience to agree with him.

    Then again, I haven’t seen the movie as recently as Vern, so I may be forgetting or misremembering some details. I first saw it at an age when my days of being bullied as a teenager were not far in the past, and so I saw the movie through that lens – as the fantasy of getting back at people who attack you for no reason – rather than a statement about racial or economic issues I may not have been sensitive to at that time.

    And of course, in modern times it’s become clear that vengeful (white) nerds might not be the innocent underdogs they see themselves as. Which perhaps makes the movie even more topical today.

    I should watch this one again.

  14. I think this is one of your most well thought out pieces, Vern. I liked “Falling Down”, but I can agree that is has a confusing point of view and tone, it is entertaining to watch, but can’t really hold up to an intelligent examination.

  15. See, and I thought GOD BLESS AMERICA was very clearly a violent Left Wing Fantasy. A kind of therapeutic snuff film that liberals can watch and cheer for – which in my opinion is every bit as “offensive” as this movie (I hated GBA mainly because of how it portrays the right-leaning villains and for how it focused most of the violence towards them. There are lots of rude, stupid, dangerous liberals. I’m just saying. Do they deserve to get murdered too?)

    I mean Vern has a point in so far as why have so many characters that Foster gets annoyed with be minority? And his observation about the gays being the only group Shoemaker chooses to stand up for is clever, and I think deserving of an answer. Egg on the director’s face?

    Perhaps FALLING DOWN was meant as a kind of mythic expulsion of White Frustration – hence all those hilarious, positive reviews. I mean, “White Americans” are a group, too, right?

    Maybe we’re all a little bigoted.

    I don’t know. But I did like the movie once upon a time.

  16. I’ve always thought it was pretty clear that this movie was supposed to be a subversion of the “angry white man” archetype, showing that if any of these dudes actually put their money where their mouth is they’d have to be insane and could only wind up dead.

    If people miss the point, well, that’s not the movie’s fault, a lot of people look at Patrick Bateman in AMERICA PSYCHO as some sort of anti-hero even though he’s literally a serial killer.

  17. Fantastic review Vern. I’ve always despised this movie. As someone who has worked in the customer service industry for the last 15 years I can tell you that entitled, thoughtless customers verbally abuse staff members multiple times on a daily basis. At least that’s my experience in every single business I have ever worked for in this capacity. I’m not sure if it’s a case of shitty parenting or not, but seeing the way that certain parents enable their children’s horrendous behaviour is pretty shocking and I think that the case could be made that for certain people some of the damage is definitely done when they are infants.

    I grew up in an incredibly poor part of Northern England and was always taught to be polite and considerate and respectful to others, I guess to compensate for my family’s lack of money or class value. Whatever the parental reasons behind it, I’m incredibly thankful that those lessons were imparted because it takes absolutely no effort at all to be thoughtful and compassionate in your interactions with other fellow humans, so it really sickens me to see other people making no effort to be empathetic or sympathetic at all in their interactions with others and just steamrolling them with their demands and, frequently, disdain.

    Also, I cannot express how uplifting it is for a customer to show politeness and consideration even in the smallest of ways, or how gratifying it is for one customer to notice another customer’s poor conduct and express any sort of consolation for that at all, even if it’s non-verbal. Just little things like that can make the all the difference sometimes, just a flicker of reinforcement in the belief that not everyone on the planet is a total asshole (although many, many, many people are). What does it take to change the essence of a customer in a late night second-hand bookstore located between two sleazy nightclubs?

    Also also, reading those IMDB responses has reinforced my decision to stay disengaged from all comment sections of all other webzones but this one.

  18. Griff – My interpretation of FALLING DOWN is that you are 100% supposed to cheer for and enjoy Foster’s ranting and raging in the film and question if he deserves to die at the end. I guess I just don’t see the movie subverting his / certain audience member’s sense of entitlement or the archetype of the “angry white man”. The film doesn’t portray its central character the way that something like TAXI DRIVER does (just to use an example from the comments in the review), so when people see Travis Bickle as an anti-hero there is a definite sense of failed interpretation there. Whereas in FALLING DOWN, Foster’s reactionary antics seem to be totally and completely validated by how the movie portrays them. Sure, this type of thing can be subverted (WOLF OF WALL STREET) but in my opinion the movie celebrates Foster’s behaviour first and sort of vaguely satirises it a distant second. You are definitely supposed to get a kick out of his whacky, completely inauthentic stick-it-to-the-man bullshit rather than being made to feel horribly uncomfortable by it.

    I also really don’t understand the comparison to AMERICAN PSYCHO but in your D-FENS I have honestly never seen or heard a single person refer to Patrick Bateman as an anti-hero so…

    But having said that, I don’t think you’re supposed to relate to Bateman or applaud his behaviour. Laugh at the dark humour and how much of a fucking nut job he is in some of the scenes, yes. But identify with him? I personally don’t think so.

  19. RE: Customer service abusers

    A few years ago my internet provider was fucking up badly. My connection kept cutting out constantly and whenever I called or sent them an e-mail about it, their reply was “We will lower your bandwith and see if this helps”. And it helped. For a day or two. At one point they had lowered my bandwith from 11.000mb/s to 7000, while still letting me pay the full price and I made a seriously pissed off phonecall. BUT at least by the end of it, I apologized to the person on the other end, to which he replied that he wasn’t offended at all, because I was still way more polite and quiet than most of his other angry customers. Then I felt really bad for him, because I realized all those “I wanna talk to the manager and let you get fired” assholes from the movies are real.

    (Although in all fairness: While the man on the other end of the line was definitely innocent, my provider only bothered with really looking into my problem, after I threatened to quit my contract with them early and possibly bring lawyers into the game. They sent a technician who changed my phone plug, which fixed the problem.)

  20. KaeptnKrautsalat

    June 19th, 2015 at 1:00 am

    I don’t think there’s any validity to the idea that Foster is portrayed as an anti-hero. He is 100% a dick in every scene he’s in, always blaming everyone else for his own problems. There are plenty of morons out there who will view completely despicable characters as heroes (e.g. SCARFACE or WITCHFINDER GENERAL), but you can’t hold that against the films.

    Also, Foster doesn’t seem particularly offended at Nick the nazi’s treatment of the gay couple, he continues shopping there without making a scene or pulling a gun like he does in the other stores.

  21. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Yeah, I agree with Griff and Krautsalat on this one. I think this movie is a lot cleverer than it’s given credit for, and that the people who see Douglas as some kind of “working man’s hero” are very, very wrong about its intentions.

    There’s clues to this right the way through – Vern has pointed out some of them in his review – but to me the moment that really shows how out-of-touch Douglas is with reality isn’t some big action moment or speech or something, but a very simple video clip showing him with his family. He’s basically terrorizing them, for no reason. And you can see in Douglas’ face that he has no fucking clue. To him, this is just how the world should work. He’s completely and utterly self-absorbed. If this isn’t a plain enough hint that this guy is completely out-of-touch with reality, I don’t know what is.

    Really good performance by Douglas, by the way.

    I also agree with not abusing customer service people (hell, I would sincerely worry about somebody who didn’t agree with that position!) but my reasoning would be slightly different. From someone who, until recently, worked in customer service himself – you get no autonomy in that kind of job at all. None. I’ve never been a waiter or a shop assistant, but I’ve noticed that in certain restaurants the waiters and waitresses always kneel beside the table to take your order, in others they always stand, the greeting they use is always the same at each restaurant, as is the line they use when you pay the bill and leave, etc. Everything’s scripted. The days of representing yourself as a personality in your customer-facing job are long gone. That friendly waitress who flirts with you in the greasy spoon? Doesn’t exist any more. Now you as a customer service representative represent the brand; and you better do exactly what the brand requires you to do, say what it requires you to say, stand how it requires you to stand.

    What you gotta bear in mind is that, however mechanical and robotic this may all seem, the person serving you over a counter, or on the phone or whatever, probably wants a little bit of honest-to-God human contact as much as anybody else does, and one shitty human being can make them feel bad for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t want to be that shitty human being, and for the very simple practical reason that I’ve been on the other side of it; I know how it feels to be a cog in the machine who has to stay “on script” even when some asshole is being unbearably rude.

  22. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 2:06 am

    Also I have a theory that the vast majority of older sufferers of “nerd rage” probably work in customer service. Explains so many issues. I know this from first-hand experience.

  23. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 2:18 am

    Not meaning any disrespect to all the other customer service guys out there. I mean, you have a really really bad day at work, you come home in a black rage. It’s a really bad idea to go on the Internet when you’re in a mood like that. Again, know this from first-hand experience.

  24. I thought about not posting this review today as planned, because a particularly heinous hate crime happened yesterday and is on alot of people’s minds. I’ve been excited to explore this movie for a while because I thought it would be an interesting discussion, I don’t want to do it now if it’s gonna be a total bummer. But I decided that when something like that happens it shows how important it is to stop and think about the normalization of these kind of attitudes and world views.

    Exactly.

    D-FENS’s actions are just too close to the fantasy life of the kind of pathetic loser who shoots up church prayer meetings. I am not tut tutting and moralizing and standing against escapist entertainment. In fact I believe in catharsis and that the depiction of this kind of escapism on screen actually serves to reduce it happening in real life.

    It’s just that as long as we live in a country where guns are way too easy to get by hotheads with a moronic chip on their shoulder, we’re not talking about escapism, this is our tragic reality. It’s like a movie that makes a perverse spectacle of the excesses of Nazi Germany for satirical purposes… but you are watching it while living under that regime. It would be no wonder if Nazis at the time would see the movie, meant to be horrible and wrong, as brave and heroic instead. So the escapism of the movie is lost to the tragedy of the social status quo: there is no escape, you’re living this hell.

    We’re living this hell. Off-the-charts gun violence.

    The levels of gun violence in the USA, the tempo of mass murders and low grade accidents with guns and lone shootings, is not remotely normal in our social and economic peers in the world. It is way off the charts. We have a serious horrible problem in the USA. We really do live a slow motion tragedy in the USA of an epidemic of gun violence. And half the country is in denial about it! The status quo with guns in the US is not normal and it is a huge problem.

    You actually do defeat evil by laughing at it, but in retrospect and at a distance, not right in the middle of the crime.

    I hate being a downer. I’ll try to end on a positive note (trying to embed a tweet by someone else from Charleston, not sure if it will stylesheet correctly and I can’t edit comments after they posted):

    an act against one of us is an act against all of us. come together for our commUNITY and shift your focus from division. #PrayforCharleston— marcus amaker (@marcusamaker) June 18, 2015

  25. Jesus! Those comments… But I should not be surprised. There are plenty of assholes around who worship Tony Montana and completely misses the point.

  26. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 6:32 am

    Oh, and reading back, I think Curt makes some excellent points about this movie as well. Interesting that he highlights that scene where Douglas’ character watches the home video as well. To me it’s the pivotal scene in the movie.

  27. I really enjoyed this review and Curt’s response too. Amazing that so many of the imdb reviewers apparently missed Fosters own revelation (“I’m the bad guy?”).

    I think Braypocalypse said it better than I could but to me this movie was a critique of 1950’s societal values – in another era Foster would have been seen as the ideal American; hard-working husband and father, patriotic in the sense that he loved his government and had a passionate loyalty to his job. The poster boy for the belief that all you had to do was get up in the morning, work hard and go home to your family and you would be rewarded with prosperity.

  28. Oops, somehow the rest of my comment disappeared. The gist of it was something about how post war 50’s America encouraged conformity, traditional gender roles were reinforced, stability was encouraged over diversity and also there was something in there that made it clear I wasn’t endorsing the view of Foster as everyman that would put me among the scary imdb group.

    It was dynamite stuff, real insight. Shame all that’s left is this rambling nonsense.

  29. I first saw this when I was 10 and even than I was rooting for the Duvall character. I don’t understand how fucked up your mindframe must be that you could sympathize in anyway with that impatient sociopath Douglas played but one thing I know is I never want to meet people who do. Curt is the MVP of this review’s comments BTW. Excellent post. Gave me some stuff to take note of next time I view it even though I never ever viewed the movie that way initially. I’m just kinda afraid that if I begin to see some justifications in D-FENS’ behavior that I should begin questioning my own ethics now ha ha but it’s still interesting to see people who viewed him as a simply flawed being as opposed to a fully selfish one which was always my interpretation of things.

  30. Those amazon reviews are depressing. A director who had a better control of tone might have made a strong film out of the same script. But Schumaker just isn’t that director. I haven’t seen this film in a long time, but I remember thinking it was all over the place.

  31. I think this is a terrible movie, and the biggest problem I have with it is that its tone is incredibly inconsistent. You can watch it and kind of see how the script might have been brilliant on the page, but Schumaker handles it in the most incoherent way possible. In every moment, he seems to want whatever would be coolest or funniest or most cathartic in that particular moment, without any thought for how all the moments would play together. So what you get is this horribly inconsistent mess that’s neither cool nor funny nor cathartic. It’s merely confusing.

    And the meta-problem here is that the incoherence makes it basically impossible to talk about. As some in the comments have done, you can point to many clues that suggest that we’re meant to condemn D-FENS throughout, and you can build a coherent argument about the movie based on that evidence. But on the other hand, as Vern has done, you can point to many clues that suggest we’re meant to identify with D-FENS throughout, and you could build an equally coherent argument based on that completely contradictory evidence. But the truth is that the movie itself presents both of those contradictory arguments simultaneously, and it’s impossible to read the whole thing in any coherent way.

    Daniel suggested that the movie starts from a pro-D-FENS position before switching at the end, but it’s even messier than that. It swings wildly from pro- to anti- and back again, often within the same scene. The incoherence is exhausting and frustrating, and it makes this movie a real ordeal to sit through.

  32. I think the movie deliberately sets Foster up as a working class hero specifically so it can pull the rug out from under the viewer and show how repugnant that line of thinking is. If it had been spelling it out the whole movie that this guy is not a role model, it wouldn’t have been as effective. The number of people who fail to see that, even when he blatantly admits to being the bad guy in this story, only speaks to how accurate the movie is in depicting this world view. It’s shown as ugly and destructive as it is, and motherfuckers still think this guy had a point. Isn’t this the same beef you had with the reaction to WOLF OF WALL STREET, Vern, which you defended?

  33. Republican Cloth Coat

    June 19th, 2015 at 8:43 am

    I have never seen this film, but I am in Columbia, SC. Yesterday, I had a half-conversation with a racist co-worker about the Charleston killings, which he started by saying “Oh, it’s comin’. People don’t think it is, but it is.” And proceeding to go on talking about race war if black people don’t stop complaining about “stupid shit”. A lot like the IMBD comments actually. I’m upset. I should change jobs, but I’ll still be in a world where this ideology is skating under the surface and pops up in coded language all over the place. Today I heard an NPR call-in show where the too-polite host was fielding “it’s not guns it’s race” calls without even seeming to know what the callers were getting at.

    As far as the movie goes, from what I can tell, an incoherent (?) film like Falling Down plays into a right-wing racist ideology by not taking it seriously. Well, it is serious and you can see it every day.

  34. “As far as the movie goes, from what I can tell, an incoherent (?) film like Falling Down plays into a right-wing racist ideology by not taking it seriously.”

    Yeah, RCC, I should have mentioned that in my post. It’s not just that the movie is a mess artistically speaking; artistic incompetence becomes a social problem when exploring serious social issues like white male entitlement, racism, and gun violence. It’s all too easy for entitled, angry white males to see a work of art as endorsing their worldview, so if you’re going to deal explicitly with aspects of that worldview you need to do so in an intelligent way. Even if Schumacher had the right intentions, his incompetence here is irresponsible and turns the movie not only into a piece of cinematic trash but also a rallying point for all the D-FENS-types out there. That’s a big problem.

    How far do you take that criticism, though, I always wonder. Vern has famously defended movies like Wolf of Wall Street, which to me has some serious tonal problems as well, against people who he feels misunderstand the movie. And I’ve done the same with movies like American Psycho. I’m not sure there’s such a clear line between subtle and irresponsible, even if I can (hypocritically?) claim that Falling Down is clearly on the wrong side of that line.

  35. I like this one quite a bit and always have. Even as a young, dumb kid, I never thought that Douglas’ character was meant to be relatable or that he should be cheered on. He’s just a psycho. Maybe we can identify with his frustrations to an extent, but his response is clearly unhinged. I do vaguely remember that the promotion for this seemed to be painting the film as a ‘wronged man stands up for himself and takes out the trash’ kind of thing, like a latter-day Death Wish. If anything, i find it to be a more unbiased, unromantic look at the ‘upper-middle class white vigilant with racist undertones’ Paul Kersey archetype. This movie takes that Bronson tough guy and reveals him to be an ugly brute reacting like a cornered, rabid animal. If you still identify with this kook by the end of the film, then you probably also think the neo-nazi character has some valid points. Great to see a review for this one, Vern!

  36. Also, yes, this film could have been much less of a divisive mess in the hands of a better director. Criticisms of the confusing tone(s) are spot-on. It is unfortunate that poor execution left some feeling that Douglas’s character was sympathetic.

  37. Also, does this remind anyone else of ‘American Beauty’ where you’re kind of led to believe you are viewing a disillusioned middle-class, middle-aged white guy have an awakening/epiphany and try to take control of his life but then it ends up he’s just a horrible, horrible person (violent psychopath here, self-centered pedophile in AB). I do think Falling Down benefits from the comparison, as AB is just absolutely horrible in my opinion, and at least Falling Down invites some discussion.

  38. This is amazing.

  39. I don’t know about this one. I can see the point some people are making that the movie never really portrays him as a hero and it’s not the movie’s fault people are morons, but I still think it was poorly directed. Schumacher is a journeyman director, not a visionary director. This message needed a visionary. Journeyman isn’t bad. THE LOST BOYS was center of my universe in my mid-teens. It just doesn’t work for this story.

    Regarding the treatment of service people, I am 100% on the side of treating them with respect. However. The whole system is fucked. It’s a vicious cycle and a bit of a chicken and the egg thing. You can’t get good customer service without behaving like a dick, which makes customer service reps not want to give good customer service, forcing people to behave like dicks.

    Paul’s right, though, most of the time it’s not up to the individual worker. They’re told to behave a certain way. I personally worked as a cashier back in the day when people wrote checks. We were told that we had to ask for I.D. on every check, no matter if we knew the person. Regular customers would bitch and moan and look around until they saw a manager, who would then come over and say it’s okay and personally initial the check, thereby cutting us off at the knees and rewarding the customer’s behavior. It was infuriating.

    I’ve been on the other end of that, too. I once was flying from Portland to San Diego when they had to cancel the flight. I ended up flying from Portland to Seattle to San Francisco to San Diego. I spoke with a rep in every one of those airports, including my destination due to lost luggage. Not one of them treated me with any kind of apologetic manner. All I needed was to know they gave a shit that this was fucking up my day. I later learned that they were told to never apologize for anything.

    What the fuck? I know it’s because the airline didn’t want to make it look like they were taking any kind of responsibility, but they were responsible! Sure, shit happens. I understand that. I think most people do. I am just so sick of this whole philosophy of crazy worst case scenarios ruling everything. We can’t apologize because then they could sue us. Or whatever they thought would happen. We can’t let gays get married because then people will want to marry their dog. We can’t try to initiate any kind of gun control because then the government will take all of our guns away, turn into a fascist regime and our society will devolve into an apocalyptic wasteland where criminals roam the streets heavily armed because now only criminals will have guns. I know common sense is not actually a common commodity nowadays, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for it. If we can’t strive for excellence as a society we can at least not cave in to every nutbag idea out there.

    Sorry. That kind of got away from me there. I didn’t mean to take it from zero to sixty like that, but that’s all been percolating for me for awhile.

  40. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 11:12 am

    I didn’t really comment on the quality of the movie, and that’s because, like some others, I think it’s varied. There are definitely some tonal “shifts” in there. Some of the dialogue is a bit hokey and cliche’d (the “I’m the bad guy?” line at the end struck me as ridiculously out-of-place when watching this one), whereas other parts of it are played as though it were going for ultra-realism.

    I would like to make one other point – and it kinda ties in to what Maggie and myself were saying. Although I don’t agree with the commentators that Vern cites, and I think they’ve absolutely misinterprited the movie – I get where they’re coming from.

    I’m going to go into British politics a bit here; so if you don’t want to read a rant about the death of left-wing politics, feel free to skip to the bit beyond the asterisks.

    ***************

    So I said, a few days before the latest British general election, that we’d see just how dead “liberalism” really is. I was proven right. The Scottish National Party – a party that only represents one of the four nations in the UK and has no candidates outside of the relatively small area of Scotland – got more electoral seats than the Liberal Democrats did in the entire UK. This despite – or more accurately, because of – the fact that the Liberals had actually been in power for the last five years, as part of the Coalition Government with the Conservative Party! Basically the Liberals went from having their best result in decades, to their worst result ever. They weren’t in the top three parties of the UK any more. Heck, they were barely in the top five parties in the UK.

    The top three political parties, in terms of political power right now, are:
    – The Conservative Party (outright election winners; think the Republican Party, only not quite as reviled by their opposition)
    – The Labour Party (previously Socialist party, now a bunch of bureaucracts whose actual policies vary from centrist to right-wing)
    – UKIP (the furthest right of the most popular political parties).

    The next two spots are taken by the Scottish National party and, finally, the Liberals (although the Welsh National party, Plaid Cymru, is snapping at their heels. Yep, a party that represents a region of only four million people is almost as powerful as a party that represents a region of over seventy million. Get your heads around that one.) So currently our three most popular political parties are: right-wing, centrist-right, and far-right leaning. The only true remaining left-wing party had its support crumple. In an interview shortly after the election, one of the leading and now jobless Liberal Democrat MPs grumbled that “the politics of fear have won again”. Which shows just how out of touch the Liberal leadership have truly become.

    I say this as someone who has, on multiple occasions, voted Liberal at both General and Local elections; who’s been active in campaigning for various causes, most of which are associated with the left; who regularly donates money to charities like Amnesty International, the EFF, and Liberty. When they gained a measure of power, the Liberal Democrats failed. Their supporters wanted to see education reform, healthcare reform, voting system reform, anti-terror laws repealed. The representatives that we elected to bring in these reforms didn’t do any of this. That’s why they lost support. It had nothing to do with “fear”.

    *************

    So why did I just bring all of that up?

    Well firstly, to illustrate an example of what I feel is a more universal point. Because what I’ve just said about the Liberal Democrats might also describe a lot of feelings about the “left-wing” parties in the USA, or Germany, or even parts of Scandinavia. I’ve read complaints about the left, from their own supporters, in all of those countries, and more. In a helluva lot of places “left-wing” isn’t seen as a realistic option any more. People feel that even if left-wingers do get into power, they won’t be able or be willing to enact the kind of reform that they want to see. I know that even the Democrats in the US, hardly known for their hard-left stance, have been criticised for continuing Republican right-wing policies – in particular with regard to foreign policy.

    I think that all of this has two consequences: a general feeling of listlessness, even despair, regarding change; and a distrust of the left in general. That’s sure as heck what happened over here in Britain a few months ago, and I see the same pattern being repeated in other countries around the world. You’ll notice that at least two commentors that Vern quotes above specifically state that they have right-leaning views. Now, even though I don’t agree with them on the point of FALLING DOWN – or, I suspect, with many other things – I find it troubling to just dismiss a point of view like this as “some people being idiots”. The question is, why do they identify with a character who, most people here seem to agree, is outright sociopathic? What qualities does he have to identify with?

    And this is where the “powerlessness” thing comes in. Some more points about the world we live in:

    – A lot of people nowadays – maybe a majority – work for giant corporations, and have to tow the “corporate line”. This means a total lack of autonomy in their work, which in turn leads to a dismal work experience.
    – The most respected workers, at least in some circles, used to be craftsmen – carpenters, architects, etc. Now, despite what Hollywood tells you (more on this in a sec), these jobs barely exist. Almost everything you buy in the store – even food – will have been brought to you thanks to the combined expertise of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. It’s said that no one person can make a computer mouse; well the same is true of selling something as simple as an apple. (Yes, you might be able to grow it, but what about transporting it? What about complying with food regulations and labelling? etc.)
    – Politicians are sorted into parties and forced to tow the “party line” by “whips”. The days when one politician could “make a difference” are long gone.

    The funny thing is that I doubt that any of those things I just said are close to being wholly true, yet the perception among a huge class of people is that the individual can’t make a difference. Why do we crave films that show the individual fighting, and beating, the system – even when the films themselves are products of that same system? Isn’t the Hollywood machine called that because it’s just another machine? And most importantly, is there really any moral difference between rooting for a character like Katniss from “The Hunger Games” or Jack from “Oblivion” or Arnold from “The Running Man” or Matt Damon’s character from “Elysium” or any one of the thousand other “common people against the system”, and a character like D-Fens, who does much the same thing? We can deplore his methods all we want, but in the end, does it really matter?

    I guess my point is that if your perception of the world is that nobody is responsible for anything, that the individual can’t make a difference, it’s easy to gravitate towards a character who tries to buck the trend – even when his methods are horrific, his motivations cruel and corrupt – because in the end, it’s the fact that he tries to take responsibility that matters, more than his methods or motivations do.

    So yeah, I get it. But I want to make it clear that I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I absolutely do not agree with the vast majority of what the commentators Vern’s cited have said, either about the film or about society in general. You can understand where someone’s coming from while still disagreeing with them.

  41. I think they just expected the title (FALLING DOWN) to be clear enough in delivering the message that it’s about a guy on the edge of sanity slowly losing his grip.

  42. Yeah, I think you guys may be too generous with this one. You’ve got to really reach to try and turn this into a subversive story which pretends this guy is a hero but actually thinks he’s a dangerous psycho. Nothing actually in the movie would suggest that interpretation; in fact, it all seems very definitively calculated to reinforce its protagonist’s worldview that he’s the victim here and he’s just standing up for the little guy. I mean, in the real world I think we all know this is horrific behavior; in the movie world, Foster is proven right time and time again. It would be a pretty simple matter to give you just a hint of the damage this guy is doing, show some sympathy for the people he’s freaking out on or hurting, but the movie absolutely never does that.

    My perspective is, movies tell you what to think about them. This one uses every cinematic technique in the book to tell you this guy’s got a raw deal and is, in some ways, an audience surrogate, an empowerment fantasy. If he goes a little too far at the end, it’s portrayed as tragic, rather than a reveal that he’s been a monster all along. I’m not sure if it was written this way or if Schumacher just didn’t notice or what, but Foster’s journey as it appears on-screen is 100% the validation fantasy the “angry white male” crowd that had just finished putting Newt on top was craving.

    Giving the absolute possible benefit of the doubt to Schumacher et al, maybe they WERE trying to make a film which subverted this worldview and just got caught up in the fun of making an action movie and kinda lost the thread a little. But whatever the case, you can hardly argue that those assholes on IMBD are reading too deeply into this. Their reaction is the most obvious one to the way the film presents itself; any other interpretation requires assuming that the apparent point of the movie is not the real point.

  43. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Mr Subtlety – It’s strange how far apart the views on this movie are. I guess the “tonal shift” phenomena is real, ’cause I’d say that you’d have to stretch really hard to suggest that it ISN’T a subversive story about a guy who thinks he’s a hero but in fact is a dangerous psycho. Yes, the guy has a “code”, but that code includes being abusive towards his own family, terrorizing people who didn’t do him any harm or even inconvenience him (like the customers in the fast food place), etc.

    Just because you see things from his point of view doesn’t mean that the movie endorses it.

  44. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 11:54 am

    And if anything I’d say there was a sliding scale – at the start of the movie the guy looks like a relatable, if seriously angry, man; then as the film gets further and further in, we see just how damaged he really is. The crowning moment being (and I’m sorry to keep emphasising this but it really is the focal point of the movie) that expressionless face of his as he watches a video of himself just being horribly abusive to his own family.

    It’s like the movie is saying: “You think this guy is justified in what he’s doing? Well just keep watching to see how much of a fuckup he really is.”

  45. But Paul, do you think the film is revealing Foster to be the villain in those later moments, or is it just saying how tragic it is that this guy has been pushed too far to return to his normal life? To me it reads strongly like “look what the world has done to this poor guy,” not “ah-ha, finally, we see what a monster he really is!”

    And my proof for that is that the movie is obviously, unambiguously siding with him throughout his rampage. He might be going a little far, but he’s obviously RIGHT, at least as far as the movie is concerned. I don’t think it makes sense to have the whole movie be an empowerment fantasy and then at the last minute back away from the central character. I mean, what would that even mean, then? Even if we ultimately realize he’s a psycho, it doesn’t change the fact that the movie has shown him to be right all along.

    Admittedly I haven’t seen this film in years, so maybe it would read differently to me now. Not that I have any particular inclination to go back and revisit it.

  46. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Mr S – honestly I don’t think I can say anything is “unambiguous”, given the mass of different reactions to it even on this site.

    The one thing that the video scene reveals, which hasn’t been revealed before though, was that the guy was already an asshole. He’s not just a normal guy who’s been pushed too far – he was pretty disturbed before this thing even began. That’s why I say it’s the focal point of the movie. Before that point, I think the “tragically pushed too far” interpritation still works. After that, though, it’s revealed that this guy was pretty f–ked up even before he started firing rockets at workmen.

  47. KaeptnKrautsalat

    June 19th, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Mr. Subtlety, the film clearly provides two protagonists which have to deal with similar situations. Foster acts like an entitled jerk who intentionally causes shit to escalate, while Prendergast is nice until it’s time not to be nice. What makes you think Foster is supposed to be relatable?

  48. As with Menace II Society and A Clockwork Orange, I love this film and hate the fans.

    I think it bears noting that the director is an openly gay man. So, the bigotry of the characters seems unlikely to be unnoticed or unintentional. It’s satire and commentary, not sincere.

  49. The writer also did uncredited work on THE SCORE, by the by.

  50. KaeptnKrautsalat — “What makes you think Foster is supposed to be relatable?” Well, nothing except that every single incident in the movie is mechanically set up so as to vindicate his anger. Not a single person he vents on is portrayed sympathetically in the movie until his wife and kid at the very end. Besides, if we’re not supposed to identify with his anger at least on some level, what in god’s name is the point of this film? He goes from one scenario to another freaking out on people, if you believe that we’re supposed to think he’s wrong about it every time then the specifics of each incident are utterly pointless and hence 95% of the movie becomes an endlessly repeating cycle of the exact same thing. So yes, I think there’s strong evidence that we’re supposed to be identifying with him. In fact, I think it’s completely unbelievable to imagine anything else. The only question in my mind is: are we supposed to identify with him all along only to have the end undermine our sympathy for him and make us question why we were so quick to side with this nut. Some people are arguing that; I’m pretty skeptical.

  51. I think it’s a bait & switch on whether or not we’re meant to find Foster relatable. His family background is revealed gradually to fill in the details. We see him go from scenario to scenario on his little Odyssey and his reactions keep escalating. It might start off cartoonish and amusing (in a movie logic sort of way at least?) but at some point, the viewer needs to go “okay, this behavior is unacceptable.” The “I’m the bad guy?” at the end is the culmination of our discovery that, yeah, he’s actually the antagonist and Prendergast is the one we should be rooting for.
    And really, the neo-nazi in the military surplus shop kind of represents the members of the audience who are enjoying Foster’s hijinks for the wrong reason. There’s no way that character isn’t intended to be irredeemably heinous, and yet he thinks what Foster is doing is great.
    I think you’d see the movie differently today, Mr. S, though I can’t blame you for not wanting to revisit it.

  52. > “but at some point, the viewer needs to go “okay, this behavior is unacceptable.””

    See, I’m not sure this ever comes. Within the reality of the movie, Foster’s anger is always justified, and he’s proven to be correct, time and time again. Obviously we know his behavior is unacceptable in real life, but then again so is Paul Kersey’s or Harry Callahan, and those movies certainly don’t expect us to turn against them. At the end, there’s a suggestion that he may not be the greatest guy either, but I don’t know if that exactly repudiates hsi behavior from before when everything about the movie up til that point has been agreeing with him. Even if it IS intended as a bait-and-switch, I still content the movie is on his side for far too long, and is completely willing to let us be entertained by his acting out the fantasy of the “angry white man”. I mean, there’s a reason that those IMDB reviews exist, and I don’t think it’s because those guys completely missed the point. The most that can be said is that maybe FALLING DOWN steps back from the brink at the end, but it does little to invalidate it’s protagonist’s frustration. At the very least, I don’t think Pendergast has enough parallels to Foster to make for a meaningful foil.

  53. Oh, and I don’t agree that the neo-nazi “represents the members of the audience who are enjoying Foster’s hijinks for the wrong reason.” I think he’s in there to deter any questions about Foster’s racist-ness. “See guys, he’s against neo-nazis, so he’s not a racist! Don’t feel bad about agreeing with him!”

  54. I think my favorite scene is where he has the rocket launcher and he’s conned this kid into thinking it’s part of a movie, with really no effort at all. Since so much has been outsourced to Canada I don’t think it’s as relevant anymore, but it’s just kind of funny how it shows the quasi-reality living in Los Angeles must be (or have been) sometimes.

    There was a documentary about Michael Douglas and his father’s work on HBO several years back, and Kirk said this reminded him a lot of a movie he did called LONELY ARE THE BRAVE, which was about a cowboy living in the modern world.

  55. KaeptnKrautsalat

    June 19th, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    “Within the reality of the movie, Foster’s anger is always justified, and he’s proven to be correct, time and time again.”
    When is he proven to be correct about anything? His arguments are completely incoherent.
    “I don’t think Pendergast has enough parallels to Foster to make for a meaningful foil.”
    Their work is not appreciated, their family lives suck and they both start the movie in the same traffic jam. Prendergast demonstrates how a reasonable person can deal with shitty situations, Foster looks for excuses to make those situations even worse.

  56. “When is he proven to be correct about anything? His arguments are completely incoherent.”

    I mean, I’m not saying he’s right in real life, obviously I think he’s despicable. But in the movie’s internal reality, not a single one of his victims is portrayed sympathetically, or allowed to make an argument for themselves. The movie does not treat them as victims, and in some cases (the gangsters, for example) they’re active antagonists. You’re really trying to tell me the movie’s not on his side when he shoots the gangsters who have already tried to kill him? I don’t buy that. If the movie was at all interested in making his rampage seem unpleasant, there are plenty of ways they could have done it, starting by humanizing his victims. None of that happens.

  57. The Original Paul

    June 19th, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Well I now want to rewatch this movie to see if I view it any differently. So there’s that.

  58. KaeptnKrautsalat

    June 19th, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Most of his victims are indeed assholes (not all of them, Sheila is all right), but most of the conflicts are started by Foster. A film with an asshole protagonist does not have to be unpleasant.

  59. @Bryan

    I don’t think Lester Burnam is a pedophile in American Beauty. Even ignoring the semantics argument about the definition of the word, vs endophile.

    He lusts after a teenage girl, yes. But only in his imagination and only in the context that she reminds him of the unfulfilled promise of his youth. Even when he’s masturbating to the thought of her, his arousal isn’t based on the idea that she is sexy because she is a ‘child’… she’s sexy because she’s sexy. In his fantasy she is literally IN FULL BLOOM.

    Further, when she offers herself to him in act three, he doesn’t follow through.

    Lester was a lot of things, but I don’t think he was a pervert.

  60. When analyzing movies we tend to assume that the main character represents what the film is advocating, and that character’s opponent represents what the film opposes.

    But sometimes we watch movies because it’s satisfying to see an antihero break the rules. In fact there are entire genres (slasher, monster movie, gangster movie, any movie about someone planning a murder) where that is the whole point. We want the central character to cause as much mayhem as possible, because that is the spectacle (and secret wish-fulfillment) that we came to see.

    Yet this transgression is always fenced in at the end by having the criminal caught, the kaiju destroyed, the gangster dramatically gunned down in a police standoff. We are expected to engage more with the villain, yet still be comforted that the person fighting that villain wins and thus upholds the status quo. Duvall’s character is clearly the Loomis/Van Helsing/the-psychiatrist-guy-in-PSYCHO whose role is to restore order at the end. Duvall is less entertaining than Douglas yet is clearly the voice of reason and I don’t get how anyone would find him villainous or unsympathetic.

    Movies like FALLING DOWN or GOD BLESS AMERICA or HEATHERS aren’t necessarily saying we should violently attack gang members or cell phone users or high school jocks. They are more likely saying “wouldn’t it be fun to see a story where that happens.”

    I believe the umbrella term for this type of thing is “exploitation film.” That’s part of why such films have always been controversial (because they model the “wrong” values) yet that has always been their appeal. I think if anyone should know this without being told, it’s the folks who visit this site. Since when do we worry about the tone and politics of such films being uber-consistent?

    Maybe FALLING DOWN is a fuzzy example in that it’s a bigger-budget film with two name actors and thus we expect it to be more thought-through in its message. But even in A-list movies it’s extremely rare for a movie to actually let a vigilante hero get a happy ending. TAXI DRIVER and NATURAL BORN KILLERS are among the few examples I can think of where the crazy vigilantes actually get away with it. Even Thelma and Louise drive off a cliff.

    If the movie actually let D-FENS make it home and happily reunite with his forgiving family, and the cops either didn’t catch him or decided to let him off, I would agree that the film was morally questionable in its endorsement of this guy. But that doesn’t happen. And even if it did it would be tempting to read such an ending as satirical or cautionary.

    Frankly, back in the day I was much more disturbed by TERMINATOR 2 with its white-trash protagonists obsessed with the idea of a coming race war that no one else takes seriously, becoming violent gun-toting survivalists, mutilating police officers, and kidnapping and terrorizing a black man who they hold responsible for starting it all. That was around the time of Timothy McVeigh if I’m not mistaken.

    Also, you know what’s another movie about entitled white-collar white males going berserk on an even bigger scale? FIGHT CLUB. Do we wring our hands about that one?

    I do think it’s interesting that everyone has latched onto the fast food scene as if it’s the whole point of the movie, when back in the day that was probably just a moment of comic relief amid a larger tale of urban decay. That might be a generational shift in that we now identify more with the people stuck in dead-end jobs, rather than with the people who break free of the system no matter what the cost.

  61. I think the fact that most of his victims are assholes is simply a concession to prevent the movie from getting too dark, this isn’t MAN BITES DOG or whatever, this was a significant Hollywood production starring two well known actors, you couldn’t expect the movie to simply be about a guy going around shooting innocent people.

    And yeah, there is supposed to be an element of wish fulfillment to seeing some of those assholes get their comeuppance, but even so when you view the movie as a whole, it’s clear that Foster is simply supposed to be deranged, the moral of the movie to me is that there’s always going to be something about modern society that pisses you off if you go around looking for reasons to be pissed off, Foster’s inherent problem is his family troubles (which the movie makes BLATANTLY clear is his own fault) which he projects his anger over onto the world around him, which is the way it is with all these “angry white men” types (I speak from experience because unfortunately my father fits that stereotype almost to a T).

    Beyond the moral though I’ve always liked this movie simply because it’s an interesting snapshot of gritty, early 90’s LA and features two very good performances by Douglas and Duvall, even if you don’t like the movie based on moral grounds, which is fair enough, you can’t call it a poorly made one.

  62. Also, Foster is very reminiscent of the clean cut 50’s man, as others have pointed out and the 90’s was all about put downs of 50’s culture and values (for one example, you have the Fallout video game series), so I can’t believe that there would be a 90’s movie where the inherent message was “yeah, you know 50’s culture had a point”.

  63. I’ve just realised that Falling Down must have inspired one of my favourite pieces of television: “To Be a Somebody,” a three-episode arc from Cracker that aired one year later. Again, you’ve got a working guy — Albie in this case, played by Robert Carlyle — who’s estranged from his wife and daughter and confused by the societal changes around him. When he gets into an argument over small change with an Asian shop clerk, he finally snaps and goes on a killing spree.

    But “To Be a Somebody” is smarter, and more politically aware. The characters are more politically aware. Albie is left-wing working-class, not middle-class, and sick of being stereotyped as an illiterate yob; he decides that instead of rejecting that stereotype, he’s going to take it to its pathological extreme.

    Albie’s also a self-pitying narcissist. He has genuine grievances, more legitimate than anything in Falling Down, and some of his victims are assholes, but he’s unambiguously the villain here. We can see that the Pakistani shopkeeper is a brusque tightwad. We can also see that he’s had to put up with God knows how much racist shit in his life, and that his death leaves his family devastated.

    Carlyle’s incredible in this. I’m sure it was his work here that got him cast in Trainspotting.

  64. The Original Paul

    June 20th, 2015 at 1:51 am

    Man, Matthew B is right about that CRACKER serial. I’d never thought of the two as being possibly connected – mostly because of the Hillsborough connection. But it’s a fantastic piece of television, maybe one of the best, or at least most memorable, ever. It has possibly the most brilliantly-filmed murder that I’ve ever seen. (If you’ve seen the serial, you’ll know the one I mean.) The program is already brilliant – thanks to an excellent script and superb performances by Robert Carlyle, Robbie Coltrane, and pretty much everyone else in it – but that one scene… that’s something else.

  65. I don’t think this piece conflicts with my feelings about WOLF OF WALL STREET or SCARFACE. I say at the beginning that I was mostly wrong about the movie all these years, and at the end that how those creepos interpret the movie doesn’t mean it’s bad.

    I do think the themes you guys are praising are all there, but I think Schumacher fumbles it. I don’t think you can reasonably deny that until he almost kills his family at the end we’re supposed to relate to all of his frustrations, get a kick out of his overboard revenge for them and think “yeah, that’s true!” That’s why Mr. Lee is belligerent to him the whole time, the Whammy Burger employees have phony shit-eating grins, one of the customers comically vomits, the construction worker turns out to be covering up for a vast conspiracy to make traffic bad, etc. Also, that he gets attacked by uzi-carrying Latino gangsters and bothered by a full-of-shit panhandler enforce the William Foster (or Travis Bickle) view of the world and humanity.

    The Whammy Burger scene bothers me the most because it’s the one that most appeals to ugly attitudes that are very common. In that scene, as executed by Schumacher, I’m sure you’re supposed to agree with him on everything except pulling out a gun. I think that view of low wage workers is completely acceptable to many, maybe most people, so it’s worth using the movie to draw attention to it. Does anyone really believe that we’re supposed to think he’s wrong in that scene?

  66. KaeptnKrautsalat

    June 20th, 2015 at 4:26 am

    “the construction worker turns out to be covering up for a vast conspiracy to make traffic bad”
    Not really, he just says that after he sees Foster’s gun.

    In the Whammy burger scene, the only thing Foster’s right about is that the real burger looks way crappier than the one in the advertisement. He is still wrong about blaming the employees for that.

  67. I do have one vague memory of a CNN news story from around when this film came out. If I remember correctly, CNN used the Whammy Burger scene to set up an investigation of why McDonald’s is supposedly so strict about the cutoff time between serving breakfast and serving lunch. They actually had some McDonald’s representative explain that they have to make the switchover at some point and that rules are rules, or something to that effect. So I guess CNN was always into hard hitting news.

  68. Sounds like their reason for why the McRib is seasonal which pretty much boiled down to “just because”.

  69. The Original Paul

    June 20th, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Ah yes, I remember it well. McRibGate – the great scandal of our generation.

  70. First thing, I didn’t see anyone mention this earlier, but Iron Maiden wrote a pretty sweet song inspired by this movie called “Man On The Edge” where the chorus is literally Blayze Bayley screaming, “Falling down” over and over. I know that doesn’t make it sound enticing, but it’s one of the high points of the band’s (mostly fairly maligned) Blayze-era albums.

    Next thing, I’m in complete agreement with Paul on this flick. I remember seeing it in the theater and immediately getting what they were trying to do. Yes, it’s wish-fulfillment in the beginning (and the McDonald’s breakfast cutoff was a HUGE deal, Vern, it even got earlier in the late 80s. And they we fucking Nazis about the whole thing – Sandler even makes a joke about it in Big Daddy) and then you slowly realize over the course of the film why we do things civilly and we put up with things that we hate and rules that seem arbitrary, because that’s part of living in a civilized society and it takes a psycho to break it.

    This guy is emasculated over and over again through his job and his divorce and modern society has changed, but he hasn’t. Part of the problem is that modern society didn’t make it easy to transition for the older generation and has a hard time finding a place for the traditionally masculine (Fight Club covers that as well), and then you get to Robert Duvall’s character who is also struggling with his place in the world. It’s not justifying what happens, but it is pointing in out that it’s not black and white. D-FENS always has these psycho tendencies and when you combine that with an inability to cope with modern society, he just fucking cracks. And then as the movie progresses and he gets crazier and crazier, you see that the path he’s taken is way too destructive and the wish fulfillment goes too far.

    It’s not a great film, even though Douglas does a good job at making things uncomfortable and Robert Duvall is always a joy to watch. I was expecting a crowd pleaser and instead got a much more morally ambiguous film, which disappointed me as a 15-year old.

    Society changed too fast for a certain segment of the population and combine that with all the crazy stupid aspects of modern life (traffic, downsizing, other bullshit) and it’s a surprise that more people don’t crack. But this isn’t Out For Justice, there’s no one to root for.

  71. This movie is actually a fascinating example of the way that Hollywood narratives are still beholden to the Hayes code. We really cannot accept movies as an amoral (vs moral/immoral) realm. All of the visual coding relies on the remnants of censorship and were baffled when a film simply disregards the expected schema.

  72. Why on earth would we want to accept movies, or anything else for that matter, as an amoral realm?

  73. I’ve been thinking a bit more about why FALLING DOWN might hit more of a nerve than other movies about vigilantes or people fighting the system – even ones that are arguably more specious in their racial or gender politics or their depictions of violence.

    Usually when there’s a movie about a white-collar cog who breaks away from the system – whether it’s FIGHT CLUB or OFFICE SPACE or AMERICAN BEAUTY – that breaking away is the beginning of the character’s search for a truer and more meaningful life (even if that journey ends up leading in a dark direction). But in FALLING DOWN the main character actually wants to hold onto that conventional existence, to the point of putting on the tie and driving in bad traffic despite having no job and paycheck. He has based his identity on the very things that most movie heroes in his place would regard as inauthentic. He embraces the value system that is usually portrayed as stifling or oppressive, and he considers its absence as a loss. So in movie terms he seems like less of a hero than other such characters, even ones who are even more violent and psychotic.

    If he was shown to be blue-collar or underpaid or uneducated, he would still be a questionable character but he would seem like more of an actual underdog. The fact that he resents losing a good-paying defense job (of a type few people enjoy) enough to become violent about it is probably what makes him seem like more of an asshole compared to, say, Travis Bickle.

    I think I’m finally out of things to say about FALLING DOWN, a movie I’ve barely thought about in years but which has been reawakened by this review and the lively discussion.

  74. The Original Paul

    June 20th, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    It’s been an interesting discussion. Curt, this is kinda redundant now but you’ve written some of the most insightful commentary I’ve seen on this site in a long while, so thanks for that.

  75. The Original Paul

    June 20th, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Eric – to answer your question – I guess it depends on the movie. In my opinion – although doubtless others here would disagree with it – THE TOURNAMENT was entirely ruined by the writers trying to stuff normal human morality into a story about thirty paid trained killers taking part in a tournament where they have to fight each other to the death.

    Not that I don’t think the killers shouldn’t have a moral code – in fact, a movie about killers with differing “codes” (eg, you don’t shoot an unarmed man, you never make a kill personal, you don’t kill children / women, etc) would be an interesting one. Unfortunately the way THE TOURNAMENT did it was to have the main character (played by a miscast Kelly Hu, who looked about thirteen years old in that movie) be a “reformed” killer. Who never actually kills anybody unless it’s in self-defence or in defence of an innocent. That “innocent” being Robert Carlyle, playing a priest, who gets conveniently dragged around everywhere so that Hu has someone to “save”. Basically, she’s Elektra from ELEKTRA, only with less charm or character. And don’t even get me started on the range of utter absurdities needed to have the tournament organiser meet a “morally convenient” end.

    This is a movie with a good setting, good actors, some great action scenes, but for some reason that I don’t even understand they tried to make it a morality tale. If they hadn’t have done that, I think it would’ve been fantastic. It’s a prime example of a movie that was lessened (and in my opinion ruined) by having morality enter the equation. That’s why some movies should be “amoral”.

    And to take that idea one step further: not every good story needs to be about conventional ideas of “right” and “wrong”. Sometimes the most interesting thing a movie can do is to redefine morality in its own world. Why shouldn’t there be a movie set in a world where the characters are professional killers, in which the protagonist believes that while killing for money is acceptable, killing for lust or jealousy or other personal or instinctive reasons is the worst thing you can possibly do? And just have this accepted as the moral “status quo”? Have the “good guys” be consummate professionals, while the villain is a sadistic spree killer? 13 ASSASSINS did something pretty similar, I believe, and that was a great movie. That film did it using a different society – Feudal Japan – as its setting, but I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a similar movie set in the present, or even the future. All that really needs to change is the attitudes of the characters.

  76. Another thing I want to say about comparisons to WOLF OF WALL STREET: the criticisms about WOLF that drove me crazy were the ones that wanted it to come out and specifically state for the slow people in the audience that this character is a bad guy. One essay even wanted the real life cop character to be changed to a woman to oppose the misogyny depicted in the movie, as if our own moral compasses weren’t enough to oppose it. Another thing alot of people said was they didn’t like that he got away with it at the end, which of course we love because it would be such a lie to pretend people like that get punished. It would completely sell out the main point of the movie in the interest of making people who don’t like this type of movie more comfortable.

    I think FALLING DOWN is actually closer to the type of movie they wanted WOLF to be. It actually does have alot of things (pointed out by various people here) to show at least in the end that he’s wrong, and he does die (although I agree with Subtlety that they play this more as one more undeserved tragedy in his life than as a moral reckoning). I think it’s as well-meaning as WOLF is, but I think it supports Foster’s point of view more than it means to.

    Thanks for all the comments, this has been one of the most thoughtful and diversely-opinioned threads here in a long time.

  77. animalramirez1976

    June 20th, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    “Leave the goddamn skin on the chicken!” – one of my favorite stupid lines. It has stayed with me over 20 years.

    I pretty much hated this movie when it came out, but thinking about it in retrospect makes me wonder it doesn’t qualify for the “just-because-the-movie-shows-the-hero-doing-bad-things-doesn’t-mean-it-approves-in-fact-it-means-the-opposite” defense, which frankly I often find quite disingenuous.

    The idea of having homicidal fantasies about stupid shit we all have to put up with seems incredibly relatable. There must be something like this that pushes your buttons. I go out of my way to be patient with customer service representatives and always tip well even if a waitress does a bad job, but my city’s public transportation system makes my blood boil every time. I never say a word, but constantly picture myself dragging some poor conductor out of the car and beating the shit out of him, even though I know there was nothing he could have done about the delay in question. Nor do I have any difficulty identifying with the insane theory that road construction is a conspiracy to tear up roads and not get any work done. In moments of road rage, I’ve come up with that one a million times.

    I guess the point is that DFNS (or whatever) is a lot more relatable to a lot more people than, say, Jordan Belfort. But yet the flaws in the hero’s (?) point of view are attributed to the movie itself, not him. Obviously, every movie has to judged on its own merits, but there is more than a little inconsistency in this.

  78. animalramirez1976

    June 20th, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Wow I can see I’m really late to the party, as usual. I started writing this a couple of days ago.

  79. animalramirez1976 – I keep thinking your gravatar is middle aged Michael J Fox from BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 and thinking “I don’t remember him putting a gun to his head.”

  80. flyingguillotine

    June 20th, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    I think the key beat in this film is, at the end, when D-FENS says incredulously, “I’m the bad guy?” I think he’s honestly surprised by the revelation, but then doesn’t turn around and say, “No, I’m not.” He just lets that sink in.

    I believe the clearer analogies for this movie are TAXI DRIVER and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. You know that early scene in HENRY which Henry and Otiss smash a TV over the pawn shop dude’s dead? The film is luring us to cheer for violence; the fact that it’s played broad and kind of silly is the point. Fuck that fat guy, right? He had it coming, and it’s satisfying to see who characters solve an issue with him by smashing his fat head. Yeah! Bash him!

    So… no, I don’t think we’re supposed to cheer D-FENS for being mean to the hamburger workers. And if you do, while identifying with D-FENS, at the very end the film explicitly says, “This is a bad guy.”

    At the same time, though, the film isn’t operating completely in black and white; it doesn’t indict characters for standing up for themselves, just for “standing up for yourself” over ridiculous or racist bullshit.

    For example, it’s not an accident that Duvall’s character has this shrewish wife at home, and an obnoxious co-worker — both of whom are super broad characters — and at the end of Duvall’s arc he puts them both in their place.

  81. @Eric

    because it’s fiction… and doesn’t exist, so adding a sense of bourgeois morality is pointless at best and self-aggrandizing at worst?

  82. I don’t even understand how anyone could watch this movie and think that movie is anything but a thumbs up to D-FENS rampage. Hollywood always tries to create hit movies by using the emotion of the people( the majority of paying moviegoers…….mainly caucasian people) in a particular moment. This movie was made on the heels of the Rodney King riot and wanted to cash in on white rage. It was the era when the seeds for the tea party were created. I’m not saying this movie had any lofty goals in mind, only that it was cashing in on the feeling of the moment( only made worse a couple years later when OJ was found not guilty). The movie tries to cheat at the end by making sure he doesn’t walk off into the sunset. Previous posters said that everything he does is proven right(within the context of the movie), and I agree with that. There is nothing in the movie that shows sympathy for any of the victims.

    I’m not the type of person who is ever going to be swayed by a movie. I can watch movies that have my views,and those that aren’t anywhere near my views, as long as it is entertaining and has a great story. I could see some people who want justification for how they feel seeing this guy as a hero. That’s what the movie portrays for 80% of it’s runtime. The only thing that keeps this movie from being something to take seriously is the director. He portrays pretty much every stereotype possible with zero realism. Everybody in the movie is just a normal movie caricature of the way elite people see the rest of us that aren’t elite. I never took this movie seriously because it’s too cartoonish to be taken seriously.

  83. Chitown – you are right that the early 90’s were a nightmare for conservative white people, my dad looks back on not just the early 90’s but the entirety of the 90’s as basically the dark ages.

    I find it interesting though how American culture always undergoes such radical shifts from decade to decade, it’s pretty amazing how you go from the very conservative Reagan 80’s to the liberal Clinton 90’s and then go from the peaceful Clinton 90’s to suddenly two simultaneous wars in the Bush era 00’s.

    It can be very hard to keep with these changes, I myself feel pretty damn out of place in the 2010s sometimes.

  84. @Tawdry

    You’re right, of course. ‘Pedophile’ and ‘pervert’ are too harsh. I do find that character (and the movie) rather distasteful, but I’ll withdraw those two P words. As a man roughly the age of that character, I find the thought of lusting after a high school girl to be pretty nauseating. And it would only be made worse if I had a daughter that age. But I agree that he’s not a pervert or a pedophile. Those are not terms that should be tossed about lightly.

  85. Was there ever a thought that a version of this movie could have ended with D-FENS triumphing and be really nihilistic? That it’s a Hollywood ending to justify, “See, we punished all his morally condemnable behavior” when really the movie was leading to a true antisocial ending that they didn’t have the balls to do?

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