AN OFF-RELEASE WEEK ALLOWS FOR A CHANCE TO FOCUS ON OTHER NARRATIVES
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
During a recent bit of old-fashioned coach potato channel surfing, I stumbled upon the end of Joel Schumacher’s 1993 release “Falling Down” featuring Michael Douglas as a character simply referred to as D-Fens throughout most of the story and Robert Duvall as Detective Prendergast. D-Fens is a laid-off defense industry worker who has been pretending to maintain appearances to keep his wife and child from knowing the dire straits they’re in, but the situation takes a hefty emotional and psychological toll on him, resulting in one day, when he can no longer passively accept the perceived injustices of the world around him. As fate would have it, the day D-Fens strikes back also happens to be the day Prendergast is scheduled to retire. The two men find themselves – much like I did with the movie on that lazy afternoon – on a fateful course.
I can’t say I would have settled in for the entire movie, if I had the chance, but having of course seen it over 20 years ago when it came out, I remembered enough about the end of the film to want to see how it played out. D-Fens has cut a violent and bloody swath through the city, exposing, from his frustrated perspective, flaws in social and cultural mores. But he has been tracked, by Prendergast, to his home and had been disarmed before the situation could have escalated. Somehow still free, D-Fens winds up facing off against Prendergast who has his gun drawn on him. D-Fens tells the detective he’s got one more weapon on him and begins reaching. Prendergast warns him, once and again, while D-Fens explains how and why things must play this way. D-Fens draws what appears to be a gun, Prendergast fires. Before D-Fens falls, he notices Prendergast wiping his face. “I got you first,” or words to that effect, are D-Fens’s last.
Upfront, please forgive me for spoiling the end of this 20+ year old movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but just like I couldn’t tear myself away from the screen while it unfolded, I needed to replay it for you now. “Falling Down” is fiction, through and through, a movie full of white middle-class anxiety and the fear of uselessness that comes with aging. This was two white-male types, both flawed, but in search of their noble selves and one last chance at glory. Thus, their means, in the end, are justified, right?
Now a little more than a year ago, discerning audiences had the opportunity to embark on a similarly challenging final day trip to “Fruitvale Station,” walking alongside Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), the young black man who lost his life on that fateful platform of the BART. Grant was not an older white man ticked off by transgressions large and small around him. He was not an anonymous worker in the pre-technological age worried about being replaced by some pimply-faced kid with a degree but no real world experience.
Oscar Grant’s life, sadly, only made a statement when it met its tragic end. Grant’s story reached the screen, but even up there, in that larger than life format, we would be wise to remember there is no glory in those final moments. Not for Oscar Grant. Not for Trayvon Martin. Not for John Crawford III. Not for Michael Brown. And yet, Grant’s family reminds us, as they show solidarity with each new fallen figure that emerges, no matter how they fall, we must rewrite the narrative to seize the glory thought lost.