Falling Down
  • Release Date: 04/06/1993
  • Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Tuesday Weld, Frederic Forrest
  • Director: Joel Schumacher

I was working for the largest IT training company in the country in 2015. The company introduced a course titled “Certified Ethical Hacker” and put a price tag of 75000/- on it. Being the group leader of a Guwahati center of the company who was also doubling as faculty, the management slapped a target of 20 “Certified Ethical Hacker” admissions on me for a quarter-end month. Out of about 500 students of the institute, it was proving to be excruciatingly difficult to find anyone financially capable of paying 75000/- in two installments even if they were interested in the course. After trying, negotiating, convincing, and finally begging for the entire month, I could finally find a couple among the students who were just engaged and wanted to go for the course together as the guy didn’t want his to-be-wife to do the course alone. They had the financial resources too.

I had achieved the unthinkable. I had sold not one but two “Certified Ethical Hacker” programs. As is customary in the corporate, congratulatory emails started flowing in from all departments. However, the one that mattered the most was the one from the business head sitting at the Kolkata office. Her mail read, “Well done Ambar! Now try to close two more before the end of the day”. That was the moment when I realized that common sense had abandoned the company and I had to look for a new job somewhere else where there was still some hope left for humanity and common sense.    

Falling Down narrates the story of an honest working-class American citizen who lost his job and has been scouting for work for a month. He is estranged from his wife and daughter. The lack of compassion, love, care, and new avenues for earning his way back into the lives of his wife and kid starts taking a toll on him. On his daughter’s birthday, he finds himself stuck in a traffic jam. It is also one of the hottest days of the summer. Soon, he gets mentally pushed so much to the wall that he just abandons his vehicle in the middle of traffic and starts walking back to his ex-wife’s house. On his way back he keeps bumping into a gamut of characters that all invariably treat him so horribly that his urge to retaliate with violence keeps escalating. He starts catalyzing one carnage after another culminating with a standoff with the law enforcement where he asks the most relevant questions that many working-class people on the edge tend to ask every day. “I am the bad guy?… When did that happen? …I did everything they told me to do”.

Falling Down is a heartfelt rendition of the condition of a stratum of the society that is the most neglected these days. This film was made in 1993 and it is a lot more relevant to the Indian condition now than it was to the American in 1993. With Covid destroying millions of jobs and the middle class practically becoming the poor class, there is a growing sense of discontent, disillusionment, and bottled anger among the youth and the middle-aged men that has over the year or so found its expression through violence and mayhem.

A lot of it has to do with how these extremely hard-working people are treated everywhere. These people not only work hard but also shoulder crushing responsibilities like parental care, children’s future, and atleast providing the basic amenities of a family. In today’s time, to ensure all of these is a herculean task.

Thus when a man like this is pushed to the walls with imaginary excel sheet targets and then abused on an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis on how he could deliver the fictional targets, it is like smoking a cigar sitting on a stockpile of TNT. Violence has been committed by these people and they have only regretted it but it also begs the question — what has been done to improve their condition? The government either thinks of the dirt poor or the super-rich. The working man pays Rs 100/- per liter of petrol and also 30% tax on his income if it goes over a certain slab. In addition, he pays taxes on everything that he buys including provident funds, and fixed deposits. The country basically runs of the taxes that these people pay and yet they are the ones that are the most overlooked.

In Falling Down, the protagonist William (Michael Douglas) is shown to be a man of character. He is disciplined, takes care of his mother, doesn’t suffer from alcoholism, is respectful of his wife, and loves his kid. But it is apparent that he could only make minimum wage with his skills and that was never enough to make ends meet. This want of money gradually destroyed his happiness. During his journey through the city, he comes up against a millionaire who has a golf course that is the size of a block. The millionaire is flabbergasted seeing him walking through it. William also comes across a plastic surgeon who owns a palatial house that has barb wires on the fence. He even comes across a Korean market owner who would not help him with change and tries to force sell a coke for 85 cents. At each of these junctures, William asks himself and the people he is up against — what have they done so good to be where they are and he so bad to be where he was.

Falling Down is a desperate and resounding cry of a class of men that is getting crushed under expectations, need, and the infallible dictat to deliver at any cost. It is the kind of film that will appeal to a very niche audience as its appeal lies in the audience’s willingness and ability to connect with the emotional and personal state of the protagonist. One has to have been or atleast experienced to a certain degree the tumultuous and overwhelming predicament of being a bread earner and failing at it in order to understand the rage and fiery emotions that Michael Douglas portrays through the character of William. In India, I am supremely confident that atleast 50% of the people working in the sales sector will connect with this film and might have dreamt about doing what William is shown doing here.

Coming back to my own little story that I narrated in the beginning, fictitious expectations have always been a source of abuse in the professional sphere. My boss at Kolkata knew she was asking the impossible and yet she pursued it with vigor and infallible determination. That is what makes the work environment of even great companies’ toxics and turns the people working in that environment even more toxic. These people carry this very toxicity to their homes, associations, markets, malls, parties, cinema halls and release it in some form or the other. We all have been at the receiving end of it. Probably the payload was minuscule enough for us to have ignored it. Falling Down is nothing but an exaggerated version of this very frustration that we all carry with us and its violent release. This is why the film appealed to me so much and made me care for the protagonist. There are numerous Williams within us. It’s time we took notice and gave them a little pat on the back or even a look of compassion saying, “Hang in there…all will be well”

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars) 

Also read: MTV: Backlash over Arunachal model’s views on women’s condition in state

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