FALLING DOWN is a story (supposedly)
about the decline of America as seen through the eyes of an "average,"
middle-aged, hard-working, suburban/outer city White man. It works
on a few levels. At times I will speak of a conscious narrative
and an unconscious one. The Conscious Narrative, as I use the phrase,
will take notes on the cinematic and narrative elements that add
up to show us a man breaking down much as his society is. He is
a part of that breakdown as well as a cause of it as well as a reaction
to it. Bill Foster is on the edge of both madness and awareness.
He is meeting the ultimate disillusioning and disenchantment and
dissolution of the American Dream, to which he gave full and total
allegiance. He is also losing his mind.
The Unconscious Narrative, as I use the phrase, is not always unconsciously
wielded, but sometimes I think it is. What I mean by this is that
under and along with the first narrative I speak of, there are the
messages that women are superficial, weak, ineffective creatures;
that Blacks are criminals, pawns, and a threat to America's fiber;
that Asians are either smart and by the side of the White Male,
or Otherly conniving overcharging storeowners (also weak and easily
dominated); that Latinos are thugs and women-haters, also a threat
to America's fiber and cultural makeup; the usual nasty hype about
Gays; that a privileged attitude is normal, that misogyny is normal,
and some others. At times this is purposely achieved. And I offer
the benefit of the doubt to these writers that at other times they
are just writing women, for example, as they think of them and see
The front cover lets us know that our protagonist is "an ordinary
man at war with the everyday world." "Ordinary man"
is key, as is "the everyday world."
The back cover blurb sums up the theme as "Are we falling apart?"
and tells us the protagonist is"slipping over the edge"
and "ready to get even" with the "pressures of big-city
life" that "can anger everyone."
MEET YOUR (ANTI)HERO, BILL FOSTER. We first see him
becoming very agitated as he is stuck in a traffic jam. The scene
very consciously references the opening of Fellini's 8 1/2. In the
Fellini film, the man finally floats up, up, and away—out
of the traffic jam that is pressing in upon him. In Falling Down,
this scene serves as an introduction to the theme of the film. As
a study of cinema will teach, a viewer will see the theme laid out
very barely in the first ten minutes of a well-made American movie.
It will often be done in one phrase, or one image. Or it may be
made repeatedly, on different levels during this window of time.
The intent is to prepare the viewers mind for understanding that
theme as it plays out. This makes for a full emotional and mental
experience of that theme.
NOTE: the Conscious Narrative is that Bill is freaking out because
he is simply boxed into his car on a hot day. It represents his
inner turmoil, of course.
Slowly, his pent up angst is bubbling free. He begins freaking out.
Sweating. A fly crawls on him, the windows won't open. He swats
at the fly with a rolled up newspaper. The sounds of honking and
laughter and angry chatter assault him. He grows increasingly agitated,
feels trapped. These are all elements of the theme, some direct
A POV shot from Bill's car. In the film, the camera
PANS RIGHT and then TILTS DOWN the American flag down to the car
below it. Here, we see a bus with the word "Bus" visible
in case we need to be reminded that we are seeing a bus. Who is
sitting "on the back" of that bus? A Black boy and girl. Can we possibly
see a Black person on the "back of the bus" (labeled BUS to trigger the historical phrase) and NOT reference the Civil Rights movement? To make the allusion complete, we see a Black girl who throws a paper airplane, and the shot moves on and leaves her arm high, and her smiling triumph burned in our mind as if she is cheering. "Fist in the air in the land of
hypocrisy" are the lyrics that come to my mind, from
Rage Against the Machine. That music is not playing. But we all
understand the triumphant gesture. When you add the American Flag
directly under the two Black children, it says a lot. Especially
in the context of Bill watching all these scenes "locking him
in" or "trapping him" or "closing in on him."
Civil Rights struggle? Giving more power to minorities? Who's next?
Is there room for Bill?
Note, we shoot them both with a Low Angle, up from
underneath, giving them a sense of might and the feeling that they
are above Bill.
ANOTHER POV shot. This is the girl right in front
of Bill. She glares at him. Directly at him. We see her in a shot
that ZOOMS in slowly, and in which the camera wobbles first over
to almost center the girl's blonde/fair doll, and then, back to
the Brown little girl's face. Each time this happens, the next insert
shot is a maniacal, grinning, Garfield® doll. They are paired.
This is to add a threatening feel to her, and possibly to speak
of the danger of a certain type of child growing up in our midst.
Note the College sticker on the window. That's where she'll go one
day, to enter the system and gain power. What is missing from this
description, of course, is the pace of the cutting of the shots,
which causes them to rain down upon Bill like a hail of stones.
The blonde doll in her hands may be just to let us know/remind us
that this girl is Brown. Not Fair. Not Euro, like our Hero, Bill
Foster. It may also be read that this girl is appropriating culture,
using a toy that is "meant for someone else."
A POV shot, and they are coming fast and furious.
The editor, adept at his craft, is tightening the edit, raising
the suspense, communicating Bill's agitation and fear.
Here, we are tightening up on the frame. ECU they
say, Extreme Close Up. IT is a low-angle, so you feel the boy's
laughter (a Black man to-be) up close, and in the context of Bill's
agitation and claustrophobia.
The scene ALSO shows two "Guys" on a cell
phone, a Latina woman smearing lipstick over her scowl reflected
in a side-view mirror in which we get to feel the glare of her intense
AFTER we cut to a quick shot of another fair-skinned
child, we sandwich back to this shot. The Black child is no longer
laughing. Now he is looking down at Bill with a Direct Address (right
to camera), dark brown eyes still and strong, as if judging or weighing
As the other children laugh now, neither he nor
the Brown girl in the car with the fair doll are laughing. They
sit and watch bill squirm in the growing heat.
A bumper sticker we cut to twice in the editing
sequence above, where Bill is being pressed in upon by all these
threatening moments and feelings. It shows when the shots are
cutting quick, right before he busts out of the car and begins
walking. I save it for last because here is your theme, dropped
Bill is a victim of the system, and he will die
for our nation's sins. It reinforces what so many scenes tell
us: somehow, this killer is blameless. A martyr, even.
This is a shot of PRENDERGAST, the cop who tracks
down Bill Foster eventually. He is played by the ever-affable Robert
This is our other White Male protagonist. I won't
go into his character yet, but we see him for a moment in this
scene, sitting a bit more patiently in a car stuck in the same
traffic jam as Bill Foster was a moment before.
He looks to see a sign on the side of the road as
POV: Prendergast. This is the sign that overlooks
the area of the traffic jam. The Duvall cop looks up at it and
laughs. It seems like he is laughing at the graffiti on the sign.
But other things are at work.
Sign: A Brown-eyed/copper-skinned girl looks down
from on high. Next to her is the word WHITE, although the "E"
is mising. (We see later it is indeed "White.") Maybe
it's "Whitney." Maybe it's "Whitish." But
given the mix of Black and White face Close-Ups we've just been
peppered with, a viewers mind is now oriented on race, and given
the amount of skin showing and all other factors, it is likely
to read as "White."
On her right is a word we cannot make out.
Is it "tan?" Maybe, maybe not. But she is in a bathing
suit looking rather bronzed.
A graffiti-man is crushed inside the woman's cleavage
These images should be read in the context of the
intro scene provided above. They come directly after many images
telling us the future will be changed and experienced and framed
by the many different minority children around "us."
This quick seemingly inconsequential sequence serves
to reinforce the meme that the Average White Male is being squashed,
edged out by sex/breeding of the non-White. It also serves to
frame women as objects, which they are in this film.
Gaze closely from your roadside seat. Laugh, like
We see that Bill's license plate reads D-FENS, and this not only
notes the Department he works in, but his role as a defender of the Average (White) Man's space and authority and privilege.
This moment serves to both intrigue us, tell us he is now unpredictable—despite his buzz cut, white collared shirt,
and briefcase—as well as endear us to him. Who doesn't love
a protagonist who says to hell with breathing exhaust, pops open
his door and walks away from the whole mess? When the man behind
him yells "Hey! Where are you going?" Bill Foster turns
briefly to say "I'm going home!"
We don't know yet that he lives on the far side
of the moon.
Bill Foster calls a mother and her child, but hangs up after
standing silent in the face of her "Hello? Hello?"
The first place Bill stops in is a KOREAN CONVENIENCE
Meet MISTER LEE. He speaks broken English. He grunts. He arches
his back slightly and scratches his polyester-clad belly. You see
him here rubbing his neck. He is always rubbing, scratching...is
he getting himself off, or cursed with a rash? Whatever it is, it
subtly makes him feel sleazy, and dirty. When he speaks, he pulls
his lips down into a frown. Not visible in this particular shot,
but in others a bit wider of the same man, we see American flags
behind him. Also, the shot of Bill from the side shows us American
flags in a pencil can on the counter. Again, the theme is reinforced.
Who is this foreigner to set up shop here?
Bill needs change, and asks for some, but the grocer abruptly and
pointedly shuts the drawer and tells him he has to buy something.
Bill takes it in stride. For the moment. But it pisses him
off. And we are meant to ride along. To justify violence and racism
and typical American ignorance and exceptionalism and xenophobia
(not the same as Racism), these moments appeal to very privileged
attitudes like "I should be able to get change from whom I
want and when, and I should pay what I want for any product."
Note the BLUE sheen in his eyeglasses. We will return to this.
Mister Lee has a sense, maybe about this character. Either
way, he watches suspiciously (and from a sidelong glance) as the
poor, overworked, sweaty White Man huddles into the cooler and caresses
a Coca-Cola against his tired forehead. We see Mr. Lee watching,
and we know by the shots and Michael Douglas' reaction that he feels
intruded on by the man's glare.
Theme reinforced. Foreign elements intruding on the White Male's
ability to live a comfortable,deserved life and enjoy those things
he has worked so hard for.
The film does this a lot. Once the viewer is inflamed by having
tiny privileges denied, he/she is to cheer on this "common
man's" rejection of such obstacles to a well-enjoyed American
life. We are to at least minimally approve his refusal to "take
it anymore," as he beats up people, insults them, rocket-launches
them, shoots and stabs them. It's true that the movie bills him
as "falling down," and acting "psychotically,"
but the way his dialogue is written, and the scenes shot, you are
to be feeling vindicated for someone finally standing up to all
these annoyances that enlightened people don't make a big deal of.
Some how, very cleverly, the film often manages to pull off
a sympathetic vibe for him. (If you are the target audience, and
don't bump up against any sharp edges). It is done by tapping into
these very mainstream, lazy, elitist, crude views. It does this
with a clever joke or sympathetic action or feeling in Michael Douglass'
performance at just the right time. (There is also the matter of
Bill's daughter, who will be introduced once we need a bigger counterweight
for sympathy, but that doesn't come yet.)
Bill asks how much for the soda, and is very dismayed at the answer
of "85 cent." He mutters, fumes, "But that doesn't
leave enough for my phone call!" Suddenly, we must think of
that little girl on the other end of the line that he did not speak
to yet, but only hung up before he was brave enough to try and call
back (and realize he needed more change). We, too, are frustrated.
This father (we are guessing) must call home!
Bill insults the storeowners way of not being able to pronounce
English language sounds ("Fi' cents? What is "Fi"?
Some good ole Come to My Country You Don't Even Have the Grace to
Speak My Language, etc) tells him his prices are too high, brings
up the Korean War and how indebted Korean Storeowner should henceforth
be to America. The Storeowner begins to get a little freaked out
and reaches for his bat, growling like a guttural animal, "Go,
now; no trouble, no trouble!"
Poor thirsty sweaty, hot, tired Bill Foster wrestles the bat
away from him, though, and of course, overwhelms the little Asian
(now emasculated) man. Tells him O Yes, there will be trouble. And
humiliation. For daring not to pronounce the "v" sound
as Grateful, Korean Americans should; for trying to make a profit
like every other American in business, for telling the White Male
Bill Foster to leave the premises. We never forget that this film
is completely aimed at the Middle American, working, White Collar,
White Male. And many of these complaints over trivial inconveniences
have been accumulating inside some of these men. They have no redress
and are told they are wrong for being offended. They demand the
restoration and respect of their privilege. That is how you can
end up with people cheering this sort of thing.
Given my current focus and awareness, it proved very uncomfortable
to watch these scenes. I'm glad I had a purpose, because I planned
on making this post when I turned it on. Watching now was sort of
like that experience where you go back to a childhood film hoping
to recapture the magic, but instead see only artifice. Not to say
Falling Down is not well-made. Unfortunately, it is. That's how
it works, though. It holds up on many cinematic technical and screenwriting
mechanics levels. But being where I am now, and knowing what I know—after
both school and working in Film/TV as well as my current ethnic
studies and awareness—suddenly, the film seems nothing but
a hateful weapon of potential art. I am no longer that child who,
like a sponge, soaked up such ignorant and dangerous hipnotismo.
Here is the champ, about to hit a home-run. He pontificates,
lording his violence and morality over the fallen Asian man. This
is a speechy moment where he threatens to bat the soda-bomb across
the airspace between the two men unless the grocer gives him the
price he wants. He tells him "I'm standing up for my rights!"
When Bill Foster has the man on his back on the floor and cringing;
after he has swung his bat and smashed various displays, goods,
and items, costing the grocer hundreds of dollars at least; after
forcing him with a bat over him to charge him what he wanted in
the first place, the scared man says "Take the money! Take
the money!" But Bill is shocked! How dare he insinuate that
he is the ladrón! He lets him know this, and "bargains"
a price from the terrified man threatening to slam a soda into
Bill Foster is the righteous, put-upon Average American man,
fed up with things like bottles of aspirin at the corner store that
cost $5; with a world where you can't understand other people talking
without making effort; where you can't make out with a cold can
of sugarwater without being spied on; where the soda you decide
costs .50 is being sold for .85. Where a stolen baseball bat makes
that world into one you can afford to live in the way you like.
Bill Foster gingerly rings open the drawer and makes change. Showing
that he is paying (his own price), and not stealing. He makes a
show of it so we can see how "honest" he is. Drops in
the bill, close up, takes changes, takes soda, leaves. This is reinforced
later when the Japanese American cop takes Mister Lee (who files
a police report) away from the Robbery division, because he suddenly
realizes that there was no theft at the scene (baseball bat doesn't
THE OFFICE. We see Prendergast. His Crazy Wife calls him (again).
She is freaked out. She wants him home. Now. She seems
irrational, but we don't know yet why she is this way. She reads
as emotionally unstable. Prendergast looks around him furtively
to see if a coworker is nearby. Clearly, he catches hell for his
relationship to his wife.
The picture clutched to Prendergast's wife's chest is not a casual
prop. It is a photo of her daughter, who is dead. We do not yet
know this is what drove her over the edge. Also, the locus of the
woman's mental instability is somehow never really pinned on this,
which would render her sympathetic, rather than ridiculous and annoying.
Prendergast later frames his loyalty to her based on what she sacriced
to him to have this child—her figure. And so, it never feels
like she is forgiven for going crazy.
Also revealed at this time, but not shown here is that Prendergast
is the butt of many jokes at the office, and seen as a pushover.
We also know that he doesn't have to weather it much longer. This
is his last day. But on this day, the ribbing is especially intense.
It is significant that HE is the one we see staring at the photo
of the girl's face at length. When we see the wife, it is as shown,
here. The picture is assumed. Just as it is assumed that she feels
the same way. But in a film, emotions are most strongly drawn from
what we SEE. And so the weight of our understanding always rests
with Prendergast, instead of his wife, who ultimately is there to
help highlight Prendergast's character arc, and not as her own character.
As his wife grows increasingly shrill, Prendergast damns the
workplace torpedoes and whips out a musical globe and sings along
with it.The song is "London Bridge is Falling Down." Diogetically
(this means within the context of the narrative), it references
the location that Prendergast's wife is pressuring him to move to,
for his is quitting his job and moving for her, we learn. Another
use of this song is to reinforce the "falling down" theme.
One possible Non-diogetic interpretation for the use of this song
is that it is associated with the 1013 burning down of London
Bridge in an attempt to to divide the invading forces of Danish
king Svein Haraldsson. (Invading forces of course fits right into
the theme of this film).
You know Prendergast's singing ritual is something already established
to soothe his wife. She begins to calm down. You sense that something
is wrong with her emotionally. Prendergast is our hero, for being
so nurturing. Especially after watching another White Male in a
Tie be so vicious to another human.
Part of the criticism, notes Wikipedia,
against this movie has been that it relies on conventionally stereotyped
roles of ethnicities. This claim can be countered, Wikipedia further
posits, by pointing to the other roles. They argue that okay, true,
Mr. Lee the grocery owner is stereotyped, but there is an articulate
Asian co-worker. So it balances out. This is ridiculous. (NOTE: May, 2007: Wikipedia, always shifting, has read my analysis, and since, deleted their claim of balance)
The intelligent, well-spoken cop role of Prendergast's co-worker
does nothing to treat Asians fairly, it does not compensate for
the Korean grunting, scratching, scowling, shifty-eyed role. The
Japanese policeman (here pointing out the difference as he corrects
the White Male who asks him to translate Korean) is simply another
Prendergast's co-worker is just the well-assimilated and Smart
Japanese Type, while the balding, polyester-clad, beastly Mr. Lee
snarls in almost every shot and is meant to cause us to recoil.
Here he is weirding us out whilst the refined and authoritarian
Japanese man oversees his strange ways.
TELEPHONE. Bill calls the woman and child again. The line
is busy, though. She is already on the phone.
In this scene, while she is on this call (again I stress: she is
busy, occupied), the mother fills a watergun for her daughter, who
takes it outside to play. This comes just after a ECU on the framed
photo of Prendergast's (Blonde) daughter. The shot that follows
it is the dangerous territory of the gang members. If you don't
think these edits and implications aren't well planned out, you
don't understand media. Me, I see can see the writers and director
doing high-fives on some of these calls. They work well!
This use of gun handed to the child by the parent is speaking to
the theme of growing violence in America, and how the adults are
complicit in inducting the children into it. The fair dead child
intercut with gang activity highlights who is in danger and from
. Note the BLUE color of the gun. We will return to this.
CARRYING the grocer's bat, Bill foster walks through a part of
the city he never would, normally.
A great shot. One of my mis favoritos, in terms of Art
Direction and narrative expressed through props. Sure, it's way
over the top, but it's such a strong image. It builds tension for
the incoming scene. Here, it will highlight the part of the Conscious
Narrative that tells us America is being rotted by many elements—one
of them, gang violence.
As this story is based in Venice (I was born in
Venice), we know it is in Los Angeles, and thus, these eses patrolling
their territory are probably not Irish, or Finnish.
Bill walks into a parklike area and takes off his shoe. The place
is empty, there are tags on the concrete. He is told he is in gang
territory, and he sneers at these vatos, being as condescending
as possible. He is unmoved.
This paints him as a brave man in the film's context, and he looks
down upon these two circling aggressors from his perch. He mocks
the concept of gangs having territories, mocks their graffiti, gives
no respect at all that he might be a lost letter in someone else's
lexicon for a moment and that he should listen for language. But
that is his character. He is above all that. He reinforces the anti-multiculturalism
happening today (and when the film was made) by telling them "Maybe
if you wrote it in fuckin' English, I could fuckin' understand it."
Yet, he then attempts to "be reasonable," barely straining
out his disgust. This is so the watcher can agree with him later
when he claims that he tried to treat these thugs with respect.
This park reads as a pretty, untouched area of the city that
has been appropriated by these Latino gang members. It is another
symbol of losing culture/land/"America" to those elements
pointed out in the first traffic-jam scene.
Bill, and men like Bill, can't even sit down in a park anymore
without these criminals extorting and accosting them.
This is a favorite camera moment. Where they circle him like
sharks, and the camera glides behind them, circling. It's nice,
A reader has pointed out quite astutely that the concrete is the
front steps to a house. Yet another sign of the American Dream being
ruined by the crime and advancement of the Brown.
Ese gets intense, demands a "toll," pulls a knife (but
you knew it would be a knife!) which ends up (like the bat) in the
hands of the Unstoppable Unbeatable Strongest Element in the Stew,
It is important, and not accidental, that Bill Foster takes all
his weapons from the situation around him. This not only says he
is adaptable, it takes some locus of blame off of him, and reinforces
the "violent, rotting land" that America is within the
context of this film. The fact that he takes the weapon forward
into the next scene is adept storytelling, raising the stakes, increasing
the drama and tension and inevitable moment of climax.
White Male uses Korean's weapon to defeat Latino aggressor.
He gets to tell them that he "Tried to treat [them] like a
man," but we see that sure didn't work.
This is another scene where we are to cheer on th Conservative
White Male for finally standing up to these pinche gangbangers.
Boy, they look pretty silly now. One conservatively dressed White
Dude in the outlands with a short bat, and these two toughies run
willy-nilly, forgetting all about their car, just scrambling directionless
Bill mocks them as they run. "You forgot the briefcase!"
It is lines like this that inform the audience to laugh with him,
and to feel strong with him.
Bill calls the woman, and the child—who turns out to be his
daughter, after all.
We begin to identify part of his conflict. This is the element
that makes him human and sympathetic. His arc of wanting to get
home for his daughter's birthday. We don't understand, as an audience,
why he can't see her, but everytime we see him speak to his wife,
we get a little more of the picture. Something went wrong. He seems
like an okay guy. Yes, he does the quiet stalker thing, but then
when his ex-wife gets a note of genuine fear in her voice "It
is you, isn't it?") he quickly soothes her. He laughs in a
self-deprecating way. "Yeah...it's me."
He reminds the woman that it is "Adelle's birthday..."
At this point, and for a while, Bill's wife simply refuses him access
to his daughter. You don't know why. You are not given any facts
on it. As a viewer (I admit, I am a male and a father), you begin
to empathize with Bill simply because his ex-wife does not articulate
a clear reason why he cannot even talk to his little girl. When
he earnestly asks how she is doing (and you can hear that he misses
her), the mother says, unkindly, "She's doing just fine without
This withholding a reason from the viewer is not accidental. This
is so we can begin to bond emotionally with Bill, who will need
our alliance if we are to justify his behavior in even the minimal
amount that an Anti-Hero requires.
Later, the gangbangers come back with guns and a car. They hate
on the only girl in their midst, telling her to SHUT UP! (that's
the running joke in that scene, and we are even supposed to laugh
when two vatos gang up and yell at her in perfect synchronous timing).
As I said, the women in this movie are passive characters, and serve
as props for the men's actions for the most part. This movie is
These vatos scope out Bill, and open fire on him, carelessly spraying
the entire area with bullets as they try to hit him at a payphone.
But Bill walks on water, in a manner of speaking, and defies physical
laws by remaining untouched in a crossfire of bullets. Instead various
random people are wounded/killed. Driveby amateurs to the end it
seems, these gangbangers not only miss our protagonist, they steer
out of control, and crash the car in a dramatic head-on collision.
As Bill approaches the downed Latinos, who are pretty messed
up in pools of sangre de la cabeza he comes to a standstill
in front of a mural that will not register in the conscious mind,
unless you are aware of the Martyr theme, as first conveyed with
the "He Died For Our Sins" bumper sticker in the opening
Directly behind Bill, in this shot, is Christ. As we know, these
choices are not casual, nor accidental.
Bill Foster stands over the wounded men. Dig the low angle. Standing
in judgment, he is not only the Martyr, but God Above.
Now we the fallen Latino man, his hair undone and splayed about.
He looks effeminate with his hair all about. He looks rather vulnerable
and scared. Emasculating and feminizing males in this movie to denigrate
them is common.
The Latino, like the Korean, is now at the feet of the White Man.
Vato certainly looks powerless, and unlike Brave Bill, he begs
for mercy when a gun is pointed at him.
Bill shows some mercy and after first missing completely, pumps
a round into the man's immobile leg.
It is of note that he missed once. He can't look expert at any
of this stuff. It makes him seem a "victim" of the system,
then. Driven to violence, certainly not prone to, or practiced at
Bill walks away with the gangmembers' guns and his own briefcase.
The visual tells us that he can choose to go either way, yet. He
has not yet passed the Point of No Return. On one hand, an artillery.
A bag of berzerker. On the other, a job, taxes, a time-clock, Saran-Wrapped
lunches to put into a small fridge in the office.
He carries violence further into his arc. We began with a bat.
He is now toting a small gun shop.
Prendergast resigns. But the BOSSMAN has to give him the obligatory
Think it Over Before You Quit speech.
You can tell Bossman cannot stand Prendergast. Even before he tells
him so. That is because the Boss fella is a true AlphaMacho male,
and Prendergast is but a Wimp. In fact, the Boss is boxing a heavy
bag when Prendergast enters the office! In this shot, he is "taking
the gloves off."
As he talks to him standing, while Prendergast is sitting facing
him, Bossman has his fly and pants open, and is standing tall and
confidently tucking his shirt into his pants. I don't think it needs
further comment that Prendergast is being emasculated here, and
the role of the Macho Man being revered, on top of that.
Prendergast is our true Protagonist. He is the White Male that
is All Those Things That Bill Foster is not. He is comfy around
Minorities (works with them after all, and is close to a Brown woman,
his partner!), he is accomodating to women....like his batshit wife.
He seems to let everyone poke and push at him. He lets his boss
unload on him.
THE BUS STOP. And poor Bill Foster is subjecting himself to
it because he just wants to "go home." When he left the
gang turf, he threw the bat and shouted "Clear a path! I'm
going home. You hear me? I'm going home!!" or something close
to that. It's intended to be a Spine-Chills-Cheer moment. One of
my past best friends would use that line in life at times. We loved
this movie. He was a very cool, writer cat. And I had no idea of
all the things this film was telling me every time I watched it.
I had not yet gone to film school, worked as a cinematographer,
or "remembered that I was Mexican."
Bill now has the knife that the gang member pulled on him. When
he picks it up, he makes it clear that (again) he is not of this
violent world. He doesn't know how to use it, tries to twirl it
(butterfly knife) and mumbles "how do they do that?"
||Now he is at the bus station, and surrounded by all
the gross, urban, poor folks. This is one of those dregs fouling
up the 'hood, and while he is Euro-American (White), you will notice
he is the one who will " Work" for food. The others seem
to be just lounging. So there are a couple things being said.
||This Mexican cat is holding bags of...something in the air. Trading
them? Selling them? The camera uses his motion to PAN RIGHT to...
||These two characters in the background. We see the "WE ACCEPT
FOODSTAMPS" sign, and then we TILT down to:
A Black man sitting on the street, who, ahem, needs help to
get to his feet.
||The bus arrives. People clamor to get on.
||Bill makes his way forward, standing tall in the sea of brown people.
The camera places him above them, but...
...they "crowd him out."
And we again reinforce part of the theme. That all these other
elements are crowding out the average, conservative, White Male.
Bill leaves and keeps walking. The suspense of the conscious
narrative is better served by his slow moving across the map that
Prendergast is figuring out.
When Prendergast needs to brainstorm on where Bill Foster is headed,
who does he talk to? His partner, Sandra? No! The Smart Asian, of
We enter a second park (if we count the Ese Park as the first).
Again we appeal to a certain "Bill Foster" point of view.
The park is crammed with many threats and our narrative follows
the Bus Stop with an intensification of progression.
||There's the homeless vet, pressuring you for food. He is wrapped
in the flag that permeates this film.
In between every shot of the "threats" are shots
of children playing, Bill Foster watching, or a few teenagers chilling
and playing music on a guitar and dancing.
Note: this child's shirt echoes the American flag motif.
||Here is one of the inserts. A sign that says "We are dying
of AIDS" and it looks like this person of the "We"
group is dying at this very moment. The choice of red for the bandanna
is, of course, not accidental. It's a visual wound around the head.
||Two cops come and grab these homeless people who are rifling through
the trash looking for food or whatever they can make use of.
Bill is surrounded by People of Color. This shot works on more
than one level, as many of the shots do. This is where we begin
to understand that Bill has a pain inside him that has to do with
his child. There is a running theme in this movie of a lost daughter
that I find very poignant.
This shot serves to place him alone and isolated as a White Male,
and also as a Father. It is this father who has been cut off from
his daughter that helps to render him sympathetic at all.
Bill is "accosted" by a homeless person. This homeless
person is very quick-talking, towers over Bill, and follows him
with an obvious con-job story. Homeless people are painted as
liars (who tell you they haven't eaten for days as they munch
on an apple and holding food very lackadaisically, as if it is
a third dessert) and grifters who really don't need food, but
just feel entitled to "some money."
Bill, being a fair man reacts to being told "you don't need
both of those bags; gimme one" by agreeing, and giving up
his briefcase. The conning, lying, Homeless Person yells with indignance
to only find food inside the briefcase.
|The choice of bag of guns over the loss of his briefcase is a progression
in Bill Foster's madness, or rather, a sign of his choice that leads
away from the life that has disappointed him so much, and into one
of violence and darkness.
Bill stops into a "Wammy Burger." We reinforce part of
the theme of this tale, that of a violent (and corporate) culture.
Violence is also foreshadowed by the sight of the blue car. The
only car we've seen (and recently) that looks like this one is the
wrecked gangbanger's car.
The ubiquitous American flag flies high.
Whammo! Note the boxing gloves on the mascot! The
theme of violence is brilliantly woven through every scene, and
on every level, as a theme ought to be conveyed.
In this scene, the aggressor is twofold: Corporate America, and
the inability for a decent working (White) man to get a burger when
the hell he feels like it. This latter complaint is what predicates
the entire Conscious Narrative. Bill gets pissed off because he
wants a breakfast item, but it is not even five minutes past the
cutoff time, and he is being denied. So it is both Corporate America
encroaching upon the Little Guy, it is a loss of some royal sort
of privilege that would entitle a person to make their own rules
about what time lunch is served and the grills are scrubbed and
Yet another Everyman complaint is tapped into. Bill buys a burger
and it looks limp, soggy, dry—nothing like the juicy ad, which
Foster points out, thus garnering the audience's Junk Food Indignance
As in the Korean Deli, Bill feels he has the right to terrorize
people because a situation in life would require his patience or
understanding...or just a choice to shop for goods elsewhere.
He's the anti-hero, but he is written to vindicate the target audience's
frustrations. Prendergast is not the Real Man, after all. Not until
STREET. Now back outside, making his way across the city, Bill
finds a crystal ball that he can give his daughter for her birthday.
It clearly catches his eye and he immediately attaches significance
to it. We are reminded of the soothing London Bridges globe.
We see later that Bill's home movie memories include a horse that
he tried to seat his daughter upon, oblivious to her fear and screaming
that she didn't want to get on it. Maybe this is the one she would
have wanted, say Bill's eyes.
||While shopping he sees his Black Twin, being hauled away by the
cops. The man is Black, but not looking like most of the Blacks in
the film. This man is impeccably groomed, and dressed in slacks and
a crisp white shirt—just like Bill. While Bill has been laid
off from his job, this man has been denied a loan after being a bank's
customer for seven years. Bill identifies strongly, and as the protesting
man is shoved into the back seat of a cop car, he looks at Bill and
says "Don't forget about me." Here is, again, your White
Everyman being crushed by corporate interests, one of the Conscious
threads in this film.
WAMMY BURGER: Prendergast's partner Sandra communicates in a
few ways that she is really going to miss Prendergast as a partner.
They worked well together, you can see this from their interaction.
Prendergast keeps needing her attention in various ways, whether
it is their planned lunch, or phone calls where he is trying to
track down Bill Foster, as he makes his way across the map. She
seems happy to give it, but is always pressed to obey her new Male
Sandra is rendered a passive, helpless character, even though
a cop! In this shot, her new partner, a co-worker she already knows
well, is obnoxiously waving his watch in her face to let her know
it's time to go. This dynamic was especially annoying for me to
watch. It made no sense that she took this clown's constant gibing.
What a role model for a girl to watch. This man was constantly her
Master, telling her how long to talk, when to go, when to move,
how to be a cop. The day wasn't over, her last day as Prendergast's
partner. Yet she was throwin in with this fool. Another way in which
the film showed its hate for women was to make Sandra oddly subservient
to this jackass.
It was meant to play as humor, but there was nothing really funny
Bill walks by a mural of a dark skinned man being romantic/sexual
with a lighter-skinned woman. The pole bisects both them and our
vision as it moves to frame Bill.
He stops on the corner to dab sweat from his head. He walks on.
||LEATHER STORE: Bill finds the one joint where the screenwriter can
be sure to let us know that our main character is a good guy. Just
a guy. Not a racist, no. He didn't open fire on those wounded Latinos
because they were Latino, after all. He did it because they started
a war when they wouldn't let him sit on the concrete. He didn't ridicule
the Korean Grocer because he was Korean, per se. He did it
because the soda was 35 cents too much. Bill is not a vigilante, as
his new friend thinks, doing a Travis Bickle-like cleaning of the
streets, or anything. Just tryin' to get home.
||We know this by meeting an extreme, freakish, N*ziEmulator charater
who attempts to bond with Bill, a bond that Mr Average Fed-up Middle
America repulsively rejects. This man was listening to a police scanner,
so he has been following the crimes of Bill Foster. The Notzi thinks
Bill Foster is a hero. It's a quick and dirty way the screenwriters
have of addressing the very real complaints a conscientious person
might have watching People of Color targeted so obviously. They also
really show a hate for gays in this scene, both painting gays as persecuted,
as well as disgusting. The film does this a lot. Pretending to be
virtuous while layering on the hate. This allows the viewer to feel
good about being a watcher, and remain comfortable in many ugly views.
While it's true that the anti-gay views are mouthed by a despicable
character, these views are given screentime, and the homosexual lifestyle
is shown either cliched (five seconds of femme begging chestly butch
in the store not to fight), or as a repulsive thing (equated with
The Notzi, feeling he and Bill are on the same "side"
asks him, why did you do that? Meaning, why did you tell
the cops I wasn't here? And the Notzi spells it out for the back
row: "You are just like me! We're the same, me and you!"
You can see the SS outfit, and the gas mask in the center of this
shot. There is light coming down from above, as the room is underground
or appears that way, as if a bunker. Much clouds of dust fill the
air too, as the Notzi speaks glowingly of his empty Cyklon gas cannister
("See? It's been used!" he gushes).
This scene really pours it on thick so we understand that despite
the fact that Bill is now officially a murderer, he's still a good
guy. He's not one of THOSE characters. Those Ign'ant Racists. That
is not what is behind his fear of Brown people and cultural change.
What's this? The very repulsive man spits. "Faggot shit?"
And he viciously smashes Bill's present that he was trekking all
the way across town to bring his daughter.
Bill screams when the glass breaks. "Noooooooo!"
||There are swastikas in almost every shot, creepy closeups of mannekin
heads dressed in Nazi regalia and staring at Bill. The Notzi Fellow
gets upset when Bill rejects his attempt to bond, and tries to handcuff
Bill. He pants in his ear, simulating prison rape as he uses the handcuffs
to confine him.
Bill stabs him with the butterfly knife, but the progression
is not done playing out. He has to up the ante, after all. He's
already fired a round into the leg of a wounded man. Now it's time
to shoot one dead.
Just before Bill shoots this ugly character, there is a nice, tight
shot of Public Enemy #1, from a poster. (Not the band.) This is
not a POV shot, just an insert of him glaring at the viewer; just
an emotional reminder.
Hey, here's a murder we can all get behind. Killing H----- by proxy.
It is from this point forward that Bill's right eyeglass is cracked.
A break in one lens or in a mirror image will often signify mental
disturbance or madness.
Under a blazing BLUE bug light, Bill calls his wife
and lets her know he plans to kill her, but not in direct words.
He zings one out to Latin America on the side as he ruminates on
the legality of wife-killing in "certain parts of South American
countries." He tells her his wife that he is "out of contact,"
now, and "on the dark side of the moon."
In this film, this electric shade of BLUE is the color of pending
VIOLENCE and a state of madness.
HIGHWAY: We finally see the entire phrase next to the girl
in the green bathing suit, as Prendergast tracks Bill Foster's steps
with his partner. Does it feel dismissive or derogatory? WHITE IS
FOR LAUNDRY it says. I bet Bill wouldn't appreciate that.
Again, we frame women as objects. And this comes, notably, just
as Prendergast begins to close in on the killer. With his partner,
who is a woman.
Sandra, although apparently a healthy, able human, is forever relegated
to a weak position of being questioned as to why she is not a "officer-esse"
from the NeoNazi, pushed around by her idiot new partner, or toting
her purse around everywhere she goes. The director (Joel Schumacher)
makes sure to keep her adorned with this purse. She wears it all
day and it feels like a prop. It doesn't hang well on her ever.
Just look at her posture in these shots. It says "I am ineffective,
weak, scared, useless." And she must be, because Prendergast
leaves her behind while he scrambles off to get a look over the
peak of the hill.
Think about it.
As if this wasn't enough, when they finally, do get to the
house Bill has been angling for the entire day—his ex-wife's
home—Sandra gets shot and is left on the ground, as Prendergast
picks up her gun and goes after the bad guy! Whew. Good thing he
was there, that's all I can say.
As I said, all women in this movie are props that enable the
men to live out the action and establish their beliefs and desired
The world in which Bill Foster lives is a dying one. It is being
eaten apart by violence and crime and lack of good services, by
People of Color, by corporate greed (he was no longer "economically
viable" to his employer, the Department of Defense), by women.
||This is the violent culture that has birthed Bill Foster. It is
what he laments and becomes. The screenwriter and director show us
a violent cartoon that his daughter watches, herself a symbol of the
youth going bad.
||Adelle Foster laughs at the violence, shoots at it with the water
pistol her mother filled for her.
||CONSTRUCTION DETOUR: Bill confronts a working man who is sitting
on the ground guarding people away from a hole in the street. After
forcing the man to admit (by showing him his gun) that there really
was no purpose to the street work or detour; that the state is just
blocking traffic and doing construction to "justify their budget",
he pulls out a rocket launcher and decides to blow up the site.
Of course, in perfect character, Bill does not know how to operate
such a piece of weaponry. How could he? He only works for the Department
of Defense, and is not acquainted with these notions of weaponized
Good thing there's a little Black kid on the scene!
The Black Kid of course knows how to operate a
rocket launcher. Why not? He watches TV!
This idea that the child knows how to operate this weapon serves
two purposes here. It ties Black people to crime, and it reinforces
the Conscious Narrative, that the Nation is so increasingly violent
that a child knows how to use military equipment.
||Bill fires, and the rocket flies into a dark hole in the street.
They both think it is a dud...
||...until it explodes down the street.
The child says "Cool!" and Bill Foster looks at him
with a mix of wonder and disgust. This is, again, to show how nasty
the country has become, to tie Brothas and Sistas to it, and to
place this Average White Male outside of it, only a victim, and
appalled by this child's amusement of it.
This part really amazed me. What a whopper. Looking at his kid as
if he is to blame for the rocket launcher that Foster stole from
the man he has just shot—and then fired into a manhole. He
is visibly put off by the kid's excitement. He steals, rants, murders
and explodes indiscriminately (though to his logic it is all justified,
you'll remember) and somehow we are to feel his hands are clean.
||There is a golf course scene I won't go into except
to say it once again bolsters the Middle Class complaint that the
rich are eating up the land with thier golf courses. Bill gives
an old man a heart attack and then laughs as he lies there dying.
"Now you're gonna die with that silly hat on. Don't you wish
you let me walk on your precious golf course?"
||It's important to note that women are the cancers on the Men's lives
where they appear in this film. The anti-hero, Bill Foster has been
prevented from seeing his daughter by his Ex-Wife. He lives with his
mother, who tells the police that Bill blames her for losing his daughter,
for getting between them. Prendergast's wife nags at him, and even
though she has lost her mind from losing a child, Prendergast frames
it as her "losing her figure."
Again we see that Bill is a Christlike figure, a martyr. Here,
he has cut his hands climbing a barbed-wire fence that guards a
plastic surgeon's property, and has a bloody palm.
Also working in this scene to gain our sympathy is that he thinks
the blood is from the little girl, and he gets terribly scared thinking
he had hurt her.
This is another scene for the Middle Class Working Man who marvels
over the sort of home that being a doctor of vanity can bring.
THE OFFICE: If you know Robert Duvall, you know just what kind
of nice guy he can play. And we like him. We feel for him, because
he is a wuss at the office. And everyone picks on him. Movie-watchers
love nothing quite so much as watching the pushover get his cojones
all in a line.
But how does he do it? By finally putting his wife "in her
place." Sure, she's going off the deep end because their daughter
died (too old) of S.I.D.S.; sure, he lets everyone in the office
insult him, push him around, play practical jokes on him. But his
wife nags. And who encourages him to stop "taking it"
from her? His female partner. In this way, women are used to oppress
women. It all looks okay to see Sandra egging Prendergast on and
laughing into her hand when he finally "gives it to her,"
until you remember that the story is written by a man (Ebbe Roe
Smith), edited by another man (Paul Hirsch), and directed by yet
another man (Joel Schumacher).
For the most part, we have liked Prendergast. He's kind at first,
seems affable, shrugs off hurtful barbs. Are we now supposed to
love him? Yes. When he gets macho with his wife and finally stands
up (telling her "And have dinner ready when I get home,")
she almost trills with acceptance, and gives him a "yes sir"
type of response. You feel that with just a little stern and patriarchal
command, her mental entropy has been stalled.
||Just after Prendergast barks at his wife and tells her to "shut
up, just shut up" and such, the office erupts into cheering.
It is not in response to his phone call. But that is how it reads
to the viewer. You are in mid-reaction to his finally standing up
to somebody, and suddenly all his office workers—those people
who always disrespected him and loathed him—are clapping him
on the back, cheering, and putting a party hat on him. The surface
scene is a surprise goodbye party. The message is push women around,
treat them like garbage, and you are on the right track.
One of the rewards of his spousal-contempt and surprise party
is a stripper on a cake. Prendergast, being above the average man,
demurs. He has to leave, to catch the crook. One man asks "are
you afraid of women," and then Sandra's cartoon-obnoxious new
"partner" says "have you ever seen his wife?"
and then, at THAT point, when Prendergast's wife's honor has been
tread upon by another man, he rushes valorously to aid her by punching
this guy in the jaw, dropping him. Another mark for our pushover.
Nobody disses my old lady but me.
We are very proud of him.
Now Bill is at his old home. It is where his wife and child live.
They have fled, as he has called and let them know how close he
is. The color BLUE reappears as he delves into his memories....
As we watch his home movies with him, we see that even though he
always meant well, he has never been well. He is a control freak
who can't see that his child is hurting or scared. He is wed to
his idea of a good time. Yet we are to feel for him, because watching
this, he turns away from the screen with self-loathing and regret.
And as a symptom of madness, well...they choose one that resembles
a common human failing. For we are all capable of falling into a
selfish and heedless habit of insisting that our way is The Way
from time to time, even if it is not best for all, right? So Bill
Foster is not even a "wack job" per se. Just someone who
got too caught up in his own idea of happiness at the expense of
those around him.
Note the BLUE sheen, again, in Bill's glasses.
Here is only the redeeming part of Bill Foster's character. Here
he finally gets to see his little girl, who is having her birthday
party today. Bill has been made sympathetic by his searching for
her gift and finding it—only to watch it be broken—by
asking to speak to her on the phone, by gazing at other girls who
are with thier mothers. Despite his failings, we know he misses
his daughter. Adelle cries for her father with joy when she sees
him. "Daddy! Daddy! Mom, it's Daddy!"
||Bill's ex-wife plays a two-dimensional yet conflicted character.
She has completely cut him off from his child, and cannot even defend
that decision when the police question her on why she did it. So she
looks vindictive and we feel a bit of sympathy for Bill. Yet, later
we learn that he was actually abusive, at least in tone and controlling
behavior, when we watch his home movies with him. He never gets physical,
but you can see his ideas of a good time are bigger than his love
for his family. He lacks empathy and gets mean and bossy and scares
his daughter, but doesn't seem to see that. So we eventually understand
that there may have been good reason for the Order of Protection,
but for most of the movie, we see the mother as mean, and perhaps
frivolously so. The writers need to perpetuate this confused motivation
so that we see Bill as human and having feelings. But they do it in
a lazy way. And of course, at the expense of a female character's
Prendergast shows up. Of course, the White Male Authority figure
takes care of business and tells the mother and little girl to run
for safety while he uses his female (shot) partner's gun to get
the bad guy. We empathize with Prendergast for the most part, and
here, he finally and fully becomes a "Man," as he risks
his own life and limb, swaggers; and on his very "last day"
as a cop solves a mystery and loses his cherry by shooting a killer
through the heart.For a movie that is supposedly speaking against
violence, it's an interesting way to resolve the problem.
Prendergast even begs Foster not to make it end badly, to just
hold on, and come meet the cops, his backup, because they're some
The epiphany of the anti-hero who finally realizes he is not
Bill Foster incredulously says "I'm the bad guy?" It's
always been my favorite part, to see him realize this. It is also
the tale of the Average White Male who gives all to the system and
finds he has been used. How did that happen? he asks, and
he speaks for all the disillusioned Average White Male Americans
who feel that after all they have done, after all they have bought
into, they are yet losing their places, their moral authority, and
are not even allowed to complain, for the baleful eye of society's
judgment rests on them as if they are somehow to blame for all of