From the first shot, a intense close-up of teeth that pulls out slowly to reveal the sweaty upper lip, the eyes, and the horn rim glasses of William ‘D-Fens’ Foster, director Joel Schumacher establishes the pressure cooker feeling pervades his 1993 film Falling Down. As he sits in a traffic jam, the inside of his car seems to be visibly steaming with heat as he sits motionless. The world is a cacophony of sound. The air conditioner doesn’t work. The window won’t roll down. A child stares. The sharp, pointed,painted on teeth of a stuffed Garfield doll suddenly become filled with malice. William Foster has had enough, and all he wants to do is go home. So he gets out of his car and begins a journey that will take him far into the depth of Los Angeles and far out of his mind.
These days Joel Schumacher is best remembered as the man who put nipples on Batman, but in the late ’80’s he was on an incredible run of films that conventional wisdom would say started with 1985’s St. Elmo’s Fire. If you ask me it kicked off two years earlier with D.C. Cab. I mean that film had Busey in it, and that alone merits it a mention in a post about crazy people in films. After looking at all sides of death with Flatliners, The Lost Boys, and Dying Young, Schumacher turned his eye to the world of the living with Falling Down. The script by actor and occasional screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith was so prescient of the tension building on the streets of L.A. that while the film was being shot, the riots that followed the O.J. Simpson verdict broke out.
After Falling Down came out, Michael Douglas’ performance as the out of work defense worker William Foster became the poster child for the “angry white man”. In many publications his character was cast as the embodiment of the marginalized white male. A man feeling attacked by the wilting economy, his broken marriage, and the perceived infringements of his liberty by government, immigrants, and big corporations. While there is always a fringe element that’s political or moral beliefs stray outside the norm, it always scared me that Foster was sometimes perceived as a heroic character. Falling Down is being included in 30 Days of Crazy not because the world around the protagonist had gone mad, but rather because Foster becomes completely unhinged, disregarding anything but his own rapidly warping moral compass. In simple terms, he was a massive, massive wing nut.
Many of us might have a passing daydream that we could leave our car in traffic, demand that the fast food place serve breakfast after the cut off time, or call shenanigans a construction crew repairing a road that seems just fine. The average person will stay in their car, settle for an apple pie and just call it breakfast, and just find an alternate route around traffic all the while saving up their anger to take out on friends, wives, husbands or other relations like normal people do. ‘D-Fens’ Foster felt that the world had taken everything from him and it was time to take something back. When I watch the news and see some extremist, homegrown or foreign, taking lives to prove their point or moral stance, my thoughts instantly go back to the special insanity exhibited by Michael Douglas’ character.
While Falling Down also features an excellent performance by Robert Duvall as the cop spending his last day on the job following Foster’s bloody path, Duvall’s solid acting is quickly overshadowed by Douglas’ more inspired character and performance. In 1993, Falling Down served as a warning to a world that would see homegrown terrorism and radicals rise up in the next few years during events such as Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Okalahoma City bombing. All of these groups were lead in some way by white American men who felt like their voice had gone unheard and had clearly also gone Kookoo for Cocoa Puffs. Today we live in a world where folks regularly show up at political rallies with a firearm in tow, and people like William Foster that sit in their homes absorbing a stream of politically television designed to feed the ostracized‘s paranoia. Falling Down should serve as more than just a reflection of the early nineties tensions. It is also a warning that there will always be a danger in society lurking as close as the next disturbed person that gets pushed too far.