A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Falling Down is a 1993 drama about a man who has come to the end of his rope and has a psychotic break, calmly injuring and killing people who annoy him, and posing a threat to his ex-wife and young child. He uses a baseball bat, a knife, a bazooka, machine guns, and a pistol to disrupt and injure, all the while feeling justified for lashing out because he thinks he's lived by the rules all his life and deserves better. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "crap," "ass," "p---y," "f--got," "queer," "kike," the "N" word, "muff divers," and "pr--k." A violent racist and anti-Semite spews slurs. A stripper appears at a party but doesn't get to strip.
- Parents say
- Kids say
but the film may influence normal people into doing bad things - but very powerful
What's the story?
FALLING DOWN begins on a hot, oppressive Los Angeles day, as a commuter in shirt and tie sits in a traffic standstill. The incivility of big-city life loudly bustles around him, and road crews are rude and oblivious to the inconvenience. Bill (Michael Douglas), fed up, abandons his car and walks away, beginning a spree of irritated, self-justified lawlessness, mayhem, and violence, all in the name of "righting" wrongs and perceived unfairness. He's been let go from his job designing missiles. He wants to see his small daughter on her birthday, but his ex-wife Beth (Barbara Hershey) has a restraining order barring visits. He's bent on going "home" anyway, and with this goal in mind, he wrecks a nearby grocery because the Korean owner charges 35 cents too much for a soda. After calling the man "Chinese" and mocking his accent, Bill beats the owner with his own baseball bat, then pays for the soda, outraged that the owner might think Bill is a thief. Bill bests a pair of threatening gang members, stabbing one guy with his own knife. The gang members retaliate with a drive-by shooting but Bill shoots one and steals their guns. He terrifies workers and customers at a fast-food joint and murders the Nazi White supremacist proprietor (Frederic Forrest) of an Army surplus store; Bill believes that his own subtler prejudices make him superior to the Nazi, who openly derides gay people, Jews, and African Americans. Robert Duvall plays Prendergast, a police officer on his last day before retirement. He's been sidelined in life too, mocked by fellow cops, but is coping with the disappointment, while Bill clearly cannot cope with his personal challenges. Can Prendergast save the day?
Is it any good?
This movie wants to be social commentary, but the commentary is inconsistent, leaving the audience with an odious, morally shaky defense of White male perceived victimization and rage. The hero is a violent psychopath we should sympathize with because, like him, we've had to order lunch at 11 a.m. even though what we really wanted was breakfast. Falling Down also positions Bill as a victim of the general decline of civility, that he's just standing up for decency as he threatens, stabs, and shoots at foreigners, brown people, and rich White golfers, the last of which weakly suggests Bill is an equal-opportunity hater.
Furthering the narrative that Bill is a sympathetic victim rather than a rabid predator, he's favorably compared to a violent, openly racist Nazi. Bill, the movie suggests, is not really so bad; the Nazi calls Jews "kikes," while Bill just refers to a non-White foreigner as "you people." The movie's central premise, that we should be rooting for Bill, crumbles when we learn, far too late, of his history of violence. In fact, he's not some regular guy with a justifiable beef, he's "sick." Note that the movie was filmed during the 1992 Los Angeles riots protesting against the videotaped police beating of African American Rodney King. While the "N" word is used here, the movie is notably short on African American characters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way Falling Down suggests Bill's actions are normal responses to unfairness. Even if he'd played by the rules all his life, as he claims, could any amount of unfairness he's encountered justify the violence he resorts to? Why or why not?
Bill meets a rabid Nazi, racist, anti-gay, and anti-Semite who assumes Bill, another White guy, shares his biased views. Does it seem as if the movie is trying to set Bill apart as a seemingly less terrible guy compared to the openly racist person? Do you think the argument holds water? What is the difference between someone who hates secretly and someone who does so openly?
Bill, an educated White American male, feels he's been treated unfairly by his employer, by a foreign-born convenience store owner, and by Latinx gang members. How do these sentiments echo similar complaints voiced by some Americans today?
- In theaters: February 26, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: May 26, 2009
- Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Tuesday Weld
- Director: Joel Schumacher
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence and strong language
- Last updated: May 14, 2021
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