Falling Down – Textual analysis

The film Falling Down opens with a camera view of the main character, in the credits he is called D-FENS which refers to his number plate but I will refer to him ad MD through this analysis because it is shorter, and refers to the actors name (Michael Douglas). The scene is set on a traffic packed motorway, this is a very good place for the film to explore how irritable and impatient the American people are when things go wrong, it can bring out the worst, angry and annoyed sides of people, this can refer to the title ‘Falling Down’, this motorway scene shows the falling down of American culture.

There are many signs in the opening scene; the first thing I noticed was that the scene had a reddish tint to it. This could be a sign to set an atmosphere of a hot day, or perhaps this colour is a signifier of the type of events that follow, red being associated with blood or bleeding. The camera then pans past a various number of aural and optical signifiers. These signs include a steaming car, to represent the day as hot and uncomfortable, beeping horns is an aural signifier that people are annoyed by the traffic.

Other signs which represent the scene’s atmosphere are the children playing and shouting, they are restless because of the traffic. So, from the signs I have gathered that the day is hot and the people in the traffic jam. Whilst the camera pans back to MD it goes past a Garfield toy on a car window and a big American Flag. The Garfield had a grin on his face that made it look evil, Garfield is an iconic sign of globalisation and if he is evil this could signify that globalisation is bad or is ‘Falling Down’.

The Non – Diegetic sound at this point in the scene is similar to a siren, this creates more suspense in the scene and as the scene progress the music becomes louder with more depth. This is to build up the tense atmosphere in the scene. The American flag is a symbolic sign of the American dream, however, coupled with the eerie music the flag could be a sign of how the American dream has failed and how the American economy has darkness behind it. Darkness being a metaphor for an evil conspiracy. When the camera pans back to MD he is sweating, has a worried look on his face and there is as fly annoying him.

These signs show he is hot and irritated, in fact, whilst he is in the car there is always something to distract or annoy him. The fact that the windows won’t work and he has no air conditioning, these all add to MD being tense and getting frustrated. The camera flicks form sign to sign, this type of camera work is used to make the scene tenser. One of the signs the camera flicks to is a sign saying ‘Financial Freedom’, this could signify that MD needs freedom, maybe just from the car and the traffic jam, maybe from his life. At this point, MD looks like an average American worker, a white shirt and tie, glasses and a short, neat haircut.

The events happen later in the film show what can happen to the average American because of the American society. Previous signs are shown again, the camera flicking between signs, the non – diegetic sound builds up until MD leaves the car, the music stops and there is a release of tension, this can signify the release and freedom you feel when you escape from something that’s going wrong. The falling of the American Economy could be represented in this film as something going wrong. D – FENS, MD’s number plate is shown, this has a link with a later event in the film.

MD doesn’t know what to do so he walks off, he is asked where he is going by an aggravated driver stuck behind him but he replies, ‘Home’, there is a diegetic sound of a helicopter at this point.. From this point on, the audience knows the motive of MD; however, it is unclear at this point whether MD is a hero or a villain. There were other signs in this scene which symbolise how the people in the traffic jam feel, there is a window with ‘HELP’ written on it, this is a sign that they want freedom from the traffic jam, but the underlying message could be the wanting of freedom from their live or the falling American economy.

After the ,man has left a siren goes, an aural signifier of authority as it is the police. The man who asked where MD was going explains what has happened to the police man. The police man says he will radio for help, this depicts a typical American police man who is scared to actually do anything without permission from greater authority, it is also how he was trained to handle this kind of situation. Another example of this is when Prendergast gets out and the police says there is a lot of glass and steel rushing by at high speeds.

They are in a traffic jam which is not moving at all but the police has been told to say this in his training, this is a representation of the poor training of standard law enforcers in America. I am now going to skip to a scene which conveys Generic codes and conventions of the films genre. The film can be referred as an action/adventure or a drama. Conventions such as guns, violence and a one man escapade would depict the film as an action/adventure, but the meaning behind the events show a drama side to the genre.

In this scene there is an unfolding event, but this I mean something that happens which changers someone or makes them realise. I am referring to when MD watches the tapes near the end of the film. While watching one of the videos, he sees himself get angry. He yells at his wife and his daughter starts to cry. And the inkling of a realization starts to hit him: he’s responsible. He drove his family away. He got himself fired. He has begun to realise that you have to take responsibility for your own life. When he is watching the videos the misc-en-scene is a dark room with the main light coming from the T.

V which is representing the past. Taking that light signifies good and darkness is bad. This is showing that the past was happy and the present, which is all around him, is dark and bad. As quickly as that realization hits him, it’s gone. This is because he’s figured out where his wife and daughter are. This is to show that he really does believes that he is right and that nothing is his fault, he almost realised otherwise but once he got distracted he went back to normal. He goes out to the end of the pier and finds them.

There are various signs at this point which are a reminder of the beginning of the film; they signify what the standard life in America is/was. When he gets to the pier His daughter’s glad to see him, there is some light in everyone and you can see that when his face lights up because he see’s his daughter. Children are always put across as innocent and pure in these type of films, which is why they grow up just to follow in there parents footsteps and fail to improve the world. In reference to the film, MD adores her innocence and this signifies that he wants her and all children to grow up to change the American economy.

In a sense, he see’s her as his last hope. But his wife, who MD still misses, knows the cops are after him. She’s knows he’s finally lost his marbles. She is apprehensive about what he’s going to do. Prendergast then shows up. It’s the final showdown, but MD doesn’t recognize it at first, if Prendergast is the good guy, then he must be the bad guy, this is a generic code of the film, and the showdown is a convention of an action film. Movies are filled with villains who want to rule the world or steal tons of gold, but MD just wants his family.

He just wants his job. He just wants his American Dream. He’s crushed that he’s let himself be pushed against all his principals of right and wrong and truth and falsehood. So he does the only thing he can. He goes for his gun. Only it’s not really his gun. It’s his daughter’s water pistol. He manages to get Duvall’s shirt wet before Prendergast blasts him and he falls back over the pier into the water. This film has many signs, signifiers and is good for showing how the American dream has been corrupt and is no longer achievable as the economy won’t let you.