Recent events in Aurora, Colorado, have thrown people into sensitivity mode yet again. This is what always happens after any sort of mass tragedy. You can’t talk about it unless you’re just crying out sympathies and condolences. Therefore, I’ll do that first and say sorry to all the victims and their families. I’m really not trying to be flippant; losing a loved one, especially in an incomprehensible act of violence from a complete stranger, is the worst emotional gut-slam I could ever imagine experiencing. I’m truly, truly, sorry to everyone affected.
However, I don’t think societal episodes like this should warrant a purely passionate and insular response, it’s also an important time for discussion and to get back to enjoying the fruits of the life we have left. So, here’s my counterintuitive contribution to that:
After September 11th it was a bad time to recommend Turbulence. After the 2004 Tsunami, it was an awkward moment to advertise Deep Impact. Therefore, it would probably be inappropriate now – for me to urge you all to watch Falling Down.
Despite how touchy the subject might seem, movies about killing sprees and lone gunmen aren’t rare. In addition, they can often be rather ambiguous as to whether they support or oppose the depicted actions. Here are a few examples:
Even if you think these movies are all terrible, they still serve a very important purpose. They examine the rotten end of the stick, the shortcomings of human behaviour. A culture that focuses sorely on “sugar, spice, and everything nice” will be unable to prevent tragedy in the future. Therefore artists with the courage to treat perpetrators of senseless violence as proper characters, instead of just monsters, are doing you more of a favour than you probably realise.
Ok – preachy, preachy, preachy, preachy – I know, but it had to be said. On to…
Falling Down! From the posters, featuring Michael Douglas with a shotgun and a suitcase, you may or may not be able to predict the plot. If you can: clappity-clap-clap-clap. When I first saw the DVD I couldn’t understand it myself, but I was intrigued enough to cough up the dough.
“William Foster is an unemployed defense worker frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, so he begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.”
Basically, it’s about a man having a very public breakdown. It’s not a movie about a planned massacre, or even that much of a massacre at all. It’s just about a man saying what we all sometimes want to say and doing what we all sometimes want to do.
You know that moment when you’re infuriated by something and you decide to kick a wall or an inanimate object of some kind? You know the object can’t feel it and it doesn’t get angry or sad because you kicked it, but you still just want to show it how fucking angry you are! That is what this movie’s about. It’s a man reflecting the pain he’s going through back onto the environment around him, unleashing the anger built up inside him for the sake of how good it feels. Innocent victims get the brunt of it, sure, but the movie makes you feel good none the less. You cheer for him, and celebrate his outrage – at least on some level.
That is, until it all begins to go sour. The movie’s called Falling Down, after all. As you can imagine, things begin to get out of hand quickly. On a deeper level, however, it’s about the stringent margins of an urban lifestyle. There are things in life you can’t control, like traffic jams and road construction. What would happen, though, if a man didn’t accept that he couldn’t get home in his car quickly enough? What if he didn’t accept the cost of a single coca-cola can? What if the shoddy excuse for a burger at a local fast food joint wasn’t…acceptable to him?
William tries to power through the rest of his day without regard for these norms. His rampage isn’t based on danger and destruction, it’s simply based on “why can’t I do what I want?”. The internal conflict you will have while watching this is how much you identify with William versus how sorry you feel for some of his victims.
Both Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall play severely pressured characters, dealing with their need to lash out in some way. One loses control, while the other maintains it – sort of.
If and when you watch this movie, you’ll have to admit one thing to yourself – sometimes it does feel good to just be mad at stuff!
Like the fact that Joel Schumacher can actually make good films.
That’s not good enough. Try again!
That’s more like it. See, it does work! I should stop accepting things more often.
So, it will likely sound strange, but I think watching a movie like Falling Down at a time like this is something worth doing. Not to try and stir up sympathy for those who kill innocent civilians or in any way blame the victims or the pressures of society for their actions. Guilty is guilty, but it’s important to deconstruct the motivations behind seemingly mindless mass-violence. Falling Down doesn’t judge nor pardon its central character, it just presents him (and everyone around him) having a really bad day.
And to some of those deeply moved by the massacre, or any horrible event for that matter; maybe you can take some comfort in the absurd humour this movie has to offer. Those left behind always have a great deal of anger and resentment bottled inside. Perhaps watching William deal with the world in his blunt way can be therapeutic. It might mean a lot to some people out there, or maybe…they’ll just have a good time watching a good movie.
Falling Down (1993) trailer
– Rant Over!