Falling Down

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Falling Down DVD

Falling Down is a 1993 film by Joel Schumacher about a missile engineer played by Michael Douglas making an attempt to "go home" for his daughter's birthday after his car breaks down in traffic on the hottest day of the year. As he passes through the city of Los Angeles, California on foot he finds himself alienated, disgusted and angered by what he experiences as he is accosted, overcharged and rejected. He becomes a sort of vigilante as he gradually begins to accumulate weaponry and starts to force people out of his way - with violence, if necessary.

The movie was made during the recession that accompanied George H. W. Bush's Presidency during which many engineers who'd worked exclusively on defense applications in the Los Angeles and Orange County area found themselves unable to deal with unemployment. Michael Douglas took something of a risk in taking the role of such an obvious "loser" for his father Kirk Douglas had played petty heels whereas Michael played successful, or, at worst, only put-upon men.

D-Fens, during his hegira through multicultural LAX, shows some signs of redemption. In a military surplus shop he responds to the Fascist appeal of the proprietor with a loyalty to a WWII era Americanism that he knows has betrayed him. But a straightforward redemption would have been a groaner. The conventions of film genre made Falling Down follow the pattern of a classic Western.

One fairly slick filmic reference in Falling Down may be to the film that was made from Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, when Prendergast visits Douglas' mother in a scene expressive of the fragility of real life in the lower middle class.

Prendergast gets off the best line in the film as he in character exits from a dysfunctional system: "fuck you, Captain, fuck you very much". For Prendergast in a subplot had realized that his own work as a mere cop in an administered world meant nothing. Prendergast is the last man standing in a post-human Venice.



Running time: 113 min

Primary cast


While William "Bill" Foster (or D-FENS, as he is known as for much of the film, by his car vanity plate) makes his rampage through the city, a cop by the name of Prendergast (played by Robert Duvall), on his last day on the job and relegated to working behind a desk starts a search to apprehend him. On the way he picks up clues which single out D-FENS and we learn about both policeman and engineer as the film progresses; D-FENS has been recently downsized and divorced by his wife, losing custody of his daughter and his job. Prendergast has a mentally ill wife who forced him to stop working on the street and now wants him to move with her to Arizona.

A subplot involves the suggestion that Prendergast suspects his wife killed their only baby, yet he still must live with her. His pain from loss of his child is echoed by D-FENS's pain of separation from his daughter through divorce.

As the film continues it becomes apparent that D-FENS thinks society is full of ignorant, selfish automata, that he can't identify with most people, and that the few people he can identify with don't want much to do with him. When he does arrive "home", his wife and daughter have gone, having fled to a pier.

The story progresses along with some slight twists, until D-FENS confronts his wife and child at the end of the pier. Uncertain of what her ex-husband is about to do, D-FENS' wife immediately takes flight with her daughter as soon as Prendergast makes an appearance, pointing a gun at D-FENS' head. Despite Prendergast's attempt to convince D-FENS to give himself up peacefully, D-FENS insists upon having a duel with him - committing suicide by cop by drawing a water pistol on Prendergast. Prendergast shoots D-FENS, who finds himself symbolically floating in the sea as another piece of the city's flotsam.

The film is quite realistic in its characterizations, and succeeds in showing each character's flaws and virtues. The film has also been criticized as racist, although racism was one of the themes the film was explicitly dealing with.

BBFC Certificate: 18


  • Prendergast: "Let's go meet some nice police officers. They're good guys. C'mon."
  • Foster: "I'm the bad guy?"
  • Foster: "I don't want lunch. I want breakfast."
  • Rick, Whammyburger manager: "Yeah, well, hey, I'm real sorry."
  • Foster: "Yeah?" (pulls out a Tec-9) "Well, I'm real sorry too!"

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