The movie g Falling Down is a great study in social conflict. The main character is William Foster, a stereotypical white-collar worker with a buzz cut, glasses, and a tie. Bill Foster is divorced, recently lost his job and is seconds away from a nervous breakdown when the film begins. Bill is arguable the protagonist of the story, but he is not necessarily the good-guy, making him an anti-hero. The other main character is Detective Prendagast, a retiring cop who was wounded in the line of duty years ago and has since been forced by his wife to take a desk-job.
The movie centers on the single-minded goal of Bill to see his ex-wife and child (who has a restraining order against him), and the havoc he causes along the way. While at the same time Dt. Prendagast is trying, as a last mission before he retires, to catch him. The movie begins with Bill stuck in the middle of a traffic jam. Slowly the camera pans along the masses of cars sitting motionlessly with horns honking angrily until finally Bill snaps and leaves his car, deciding to walk.
This is the first social conflict in the movie, because Billfs goal is to see his daughter, which is in conflict with all the other drivers who are also in a hurry to get where they are going. Bill puts his goal above the good of society and leaves his car blocking traffic. As Bill wonders in a store to buy a can of coke so that he can have change to use the phone, he becomes upset when the Korean store owner charges him $0. 85 for the can of coke.
Bill is outraged and trashes the store until the owner agrees on a price of $0. 50. In the United States it is the norm to accept the price or not buy the item, normally we do not barter, but Bill breaks this norm. Also, when Bill is called a thief, he asks the question, which one of them is really the thief. In society fs eyes Bill may be the thief, but in Billfs eyes it is the Korean man who is the thief for over-pricing items.
The next scene focuses on Dt. Prendagast. We learn that it is his last day and that there seems to be a few regrets inside of him. Prendagast is leaving a social institution, his career, which is difficult for him. So when he hears of the Korean man fs assault, he is interested as perhaps he feels that he must prove his worth before he retires and is no longer a contributing member of society.
Meanwhile, Bill is crossing gangland territory and is soon confronted by two hispanic gang members. The gang members accuse him of trespassing because he ignored the graffiti. To Bill graffiti has no meaning, but to the gang members it is a symbol. This is a good example of symbolic interaction ism, as the symbol has different meaning to Bill and to the gang members. Finally Bill attacks them with a baseball bat and they run away.
The film returns to Prendagast who is being taunted at work with horror storie.