Falling Down

Falling Down May 13, 2004

The 1993 movie Falling Down doesn't quite add up. Ebbe Roe Smith's screenplay wants to explore some interesting ideas about the relationship between violence and impotence, but director Joel Schumacher — the hack who made Batman and Robin — is much more interested in revelling in that violence than in understanding it.

Still, no movie with Robert Duvall can be all bad — and Michael Douglas again shows how good he can be when he's playing a jerk. Falling Down does manage to get into some of Smith's questions about the limited and limiting power of violence.

In one scene, Douglas watches a videotape, shot years before — before his wife had wisely gotten the restraining order that forbade him to go near her or their daughter — of his daughter's birthday party. He had given her a rocking horse. It's a very nice rocking horse, but it's also much larger than the little girl who is, at first, frightened of it.

This was not how Douglas' nameless character had imagined the scene would play out. He wanted to see her smile with delight. He wanted a happy family video of a happy little girl riding her new rocking horse. And so, since he is also much larger than the little girl, he decides to force her to ride the toy. He will force her to be happy. The flickering video shows an angry man violently holding a screaming, crying child on a rocking horse. It is the most disturbing scene in a movie filled with disturbing scenes.

In a fallen world, violence and brute force are sometimes necessary (though never sufficient). In other circumstances — as in the case of the rocking horse in Falling Down — it is not simply inadequate, but counter-productive.

Simple brute force is useless for most of the problems we confront in life. What follows is a top-of-the-head list of potentially frustrating situations or tasks in which the attempt to employ brute force is guaranteed to fail:

* driving in rush hour traffic

* card tricks

* hitting a curveball

* throwing a curveball

* origami

* turning just the one page in a book or magazine instead of the two or three pages that seem to be stuck together

* ditto for coffee filters

* putting

* threading a needle

* nation-building and promoting democracy.

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