Revenge for daily irritants can be tantalizing fantasy

ROGER SIMON

March 05, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

To live in America today is to occasionally imagine shooting someone.

I don't mean that you would do it. Of course you would not.

Your morality or decency or fear of getting caught would stop you.

I just mean you have imagined it.

You have imagined it when the guy who lives above you plays his stereo until 4 in the morning and then challenges you to "do something about it" when you complain.

You have imagined it while standing in an endless line at the one open window at the post office (or unemployment office or bank) and seeing clerks sitting around and laughing and talking instead of helping you.

You have imagined it when your purse gets snatched or when your home is burgled or when you have a gun stuck in your ribs on some city street.

You have imagined it in rush hour. Every day.

You dream about striking back. About taking revenge. But you never do. And you never would.

You would never cross the line that divides the civilized people in our society from the satisfied people.

A friend told me I had to go see the movie "Falling Down."

My friend knows that I don't go to movies. I stopped going years ago when audiences started talking to the screen full-time.

I switched from movie houses in the city to movies houses in the suburbs, but it didn't make any difference. Talking to the screen is not a function of geography or race or socio-economic status.

It is a function of how damn rude our society has become.

Now I watch movies only on cable TV at home. True, I see them a year or so after they are released. But I never find myself standing up and turning around and yelling: "Shut up! Just shut ** up!"

The last time I did that was about nine years ago. And the guy did shut up.

"You're lucky he didn't shoot you," my movie companion whispered to me.

Maybe he's lucky I didn't shoot him, I whispered back.

"Yeah. Right," my companion sneered.

Which is the point of "Falling Down." In it, Michael Douglas plays a nerd. He is a laid-off aerospace engineer. He wears geeky glasses, a white short-sleeved shirt, a polyester tie and has three pens in a plastic pack in his shirt pocket.

He has a crew cut gone bad and carries one of those cheesy suitcase-like briefcases.

I will leave it to the film critics to review the movie. My friend called me and insisted I see it because of its sociological implications.

So I went to a theater and saw it. And I made a list of the daily irritants the movie portrays: Traffic jams. Those Garfield toys that people stick to their car windows. People who yap on car phones. Dumb bumper stickers. Incessant noise. Graffiti. Indifferent cops. Smokers. Stores that rip you off. Pollution. Selfish spouses. Getting fired. Predatory street gangs. Unfair divorce court judges. Able-bodied people who beg. The phony friendliness of the counter people in fast food joints. Neo-Nazis. Vigilantes. Rich people. A society that uses people up and throws them away like garbage. Editors who think they know something about writing columns.

OK, so maybe I made the last one up. But everything else is in the movie and plenty more.

Douglas plays a middle-class guy, the kind of guy whom society depends upon to never strike back, to never cross the line, to never lash out. And then one day he does.

The movie is already hugely controversial. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said it has "a bogus social conscience; it is eager to have things both ways, to spinelessly pander to a mass audience on the one hand while piously calling attention to pressing urban problems on the other."

Maybe. But I did notice one interesting thing while watching it:

When the movie started, the teen-agers sitting behind me were having a belching contest and talking loudly. They knew none of us harmless middle-class people would dare tell them to shut up.

But as the movie unfolded and as the teen-agers saw how little it takes these days to make ordinary people snap, they fell silent.

And when the movie was over, they left the theater very quietly.

So maybe "Falling Down" is "bogus," and maybe it does "spinelessly pander."

But I hope it wins a special Oscar. For crowd control.

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