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Falling Down director defends the tone of his film

Joel Schumacher
Interview.
Feb. 9.

By Chris Roberge
Arts Editor

Joel Schumacher, director of Falling Down, has a history of making films which appeal most strongly to a high school or college age audience. Flatliners, The Lost Boys, and even St. Elmo's Fire all have swarms of teenage and twentysomething fans, including many here at MIT. Perhaps for this reason, after screening Falling Down for the local press, Schumacher made himself quite available to the college press to answer any questions they had about the movie. Joel Schumacher is an extremely pleasant and friendly man, and one who is quite aware of the strong association he has with "brat pack" films. When asked if he considered his latest film a departure of sorts, he replied, "Do you mean because I was working with adults?" But Falling Down deserves to be a harder sell for the director, despite his attempts to explain what he means the movie to communicate.

Schumacher has very strong feelings about the mood of America today and how this mood attracted him to the project. "I felt that there was a critical mass building in culture of anger and rage. In the last 12 years it was swept under the carpet while all of the problems kept getting worse and worse. Unlike in the 60s when most creative people were expressing their feelings, outside of African-American filmmakers and rappers and street art, I didn't see much going on. I wanted to be in people's faces about what was going on. In some ways I think that it's worse now than when we started making the film," he said.

"Local news seems to be filled with these types of crimes. This sort of crime is on the rise in the country. Just last week there were two in D.C. and one in Memphis. I tried to put a face and a soul to these six o'clock news stories. This is the guy whose neighbors you see saying, `I don't understand. He was very nice.' " However, the two people who knew Michael Douglas' character the best -- his mother and his ex-wife -- say something quite different. Both of them thought that he was a somewhat frightening man with a propensity towards violence even before he begins his tragic trek across Los Angeles. Still, Schumacher insists, "I thought that he has an Everyman quality. I didn't want him to be a lunatic."

Talking about his goals for the tone and mood of the film, Schumacher says, "First and foremost, I have to make some sort of entertainment. I don't like movies that are soapboxes. I felt that the movie was a good story with a western type formula." But isn't it dangerous to make the film too entertaining, inviting the audience to strongly identify with an obvious sociopath? "I feel that he acts out a fantasy behavior. I think that audiences will be hard pressed not to identify with him. I think that people are conflicted. That's the purpose of the film. I think that it would be nice to do this, but we can't. We should be more like the Robert Duvall character."

As a final note, I asked Schumacher what criticisms he intended specifically for America, which he singles out often in the movie through shots of U.S. flags and characters who run army surplus stores, are Marine Corp veterans, or are defense workers. At first he replied that this was nothing more than a minor theme he introduced into the background, but then he added, "I think we are a violent culture and there's a thin line between what's considered acceptable violence and what's considered unacceptable violence. The Rodney King incident certainly shows all of that. I suppose that when you put on a uniform it's alright." This is a very interesting point, but one that is never dealt with to any large degree in the film. There is a substantial line between what's considered acceptable violence and what Douglas does in this movie. There is an equally great distinction between Falling Down and what should be considered a truly good movie.