"Falling Down" turns 30: The moment Michael Douglas ran amok

A stuffy muggy day, the line of traffic stretches to the horizon.

"Falling Down" turns 30: The moment Michael Douglas ran amok

A stuffy muggy day, the line of traffic stretches to the horizon. Stuck in a car with no air conditioning in a sweaty shirt, but with an obtrusive bow tie with an obvious death wish - and this goddamn horn concert at that! The film "Falling Down" by Joel Schumacher (1939-2020), released on February 26, 1993 - i.e. exactly 30 years ago - sent its audience in medias res into this everyday horror. But instead of putting up with the situation once more, the ferociously wild protagonist William Foster (Michael Douglas, 78) suddenly gets out of his car and runs amok. Only in the course of the film do we find out why the afternoon stuck in traffic was the final blow to his fragile psyche.

After his impulsive escape from the car, William Foster, the angry white man with a crew cut and license plate "D-Fens", decides to walk to his family. But that's exactly the point: the choleric father actually no longer has a family. His ex-wife has obtained a contact ban, primarily to protect their child from Williams' outbursts of anger. And he also lost his job at an armaments company months ago.

William's journey to what he later called the "point of no return" begins. The protagonist's growing readiness to use violence is symbolized by his ever-growing arsenal of weapons: at first it was a baseball bat, then a jackknife, later a submachine gun and finally even a bazooka.

On a deep black level of humour, the film holds up a mirror to society and our reaction to its small and large injustices. "D-Fens" always responds to the unfriendly shopkeeper, the rowdy belligerent or the overwhelmed fast-food waiter with maximum escalation. Just like we might imagine for a fraction of a second in front of our inner eyes, but intact impulse control would never allow it.

On the other hand, the well-versed Sergeant Prendergast, played brilliantly by Robert Duvall (92). The retired policeman also has to cope with a family drama, but he does it with exactly the opposite means as "D-Fens" - with empathy and kindness. Prendergast follows Williams' increasingly violent path to devastation while also investigating the obviously insane man's actions.

Where as a viewer you can still sympathize with the main character at the beginning, the paradigm shift for the audience also takes place after his "point of no return" at the latest. William just killed a human for the first time. A right-wing scumbag, but a human being. The fact that he was previously firmly convinced that he and William were of the same breed completely breaks down the protagonist's already demolished worldview. "I'm the bad guy?" he wonders. Well, that's the way it is, he decides to himself at this moment. Just like Joaquin Phoenix (48), who won an Oscar in "Joker", did almost 30 years later.

What Michael Douglas, who otherwise mainly plays slick to righteous characters, put into the role 30 years ago, does not have to hide from Phoenix's performance. Seen from today's point of view, the film also has an exciting and up-to-date way of reading. William is the type of person who is unable to recognize his own latent everyday racism. Who himself is shocked when it is shown to him. And who still stubbornly pulls through and prefers to blame others for his problems instead of questioning himself. An angry citizen who could also have been created by Fox News.

Heartbreaking is the moment when he looks at an old video recording from supposedly happier days, which once again demonstrates that it has always been himself who stood in the way of his happiness. So the viewer sits there at the end, questioning the few forks in his life - and hopefully comes to the conclusion that it's never too late to take the right route.