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Greenburg, H. (2000). Falling Down: Baser Instincts. Psychoanal. Rev., 87(5):726-732.

(2000). Psychoanalytic Review, 87(5):726-732

Falling Down: Baser Instincts

Harvay Greenburg

Homo hominw lupus“-“Man a wolf unto man”-ran the credo of that gloomy seventeenthcentury philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes asserted that the social contract was forged to curb our exuberant native viciousness; laws were invented lest we rend each other to pieces in our unrepentant lust after power and possession. Throughout history art invoking liberal/humanist assumptions of an inherently benevolent human nature (dictated or not by some higher moral order) has been mocked by art favoring Hobbes's rancid view of human nature in the raw.

The Hobbesian vision of universal rapacity, exploitation, and greed is encountered in the paintings of the tormented Goya, in literature diverse as De Sade, the savage Poe of The Cask Of Amontillado and Hopfrog, the nauseous E.C. horror comics of my youth (The Haunt of Fear, Tules from the Cvpt, so forth). It has been acted on the stages of Seneca, the Jacobean revenge tragedians, the dark Shakespeare, and the Grand Guignol.

Robert Ray (1985) has written persuasively on Hollywood's penchant for facile reconciliation of divisive social issues. The Hobbesian perspective has surfaced but fitfully at the Bijou, arguably because it does not fit well with the chronic middlebrow hopefulness responsible for so many convenient solutions to inconvenient problems regularly discovered upon the American screen. Hobbesian motifs and microcosms appear in ALIEN (1978), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Unforgiuen (1993), and most notably in Psycho (1960) 1 that nihilistic masterpiece which sent up every bland Tinseltown expectation of a tidy-and tidily moral-happy ending. I now propose to critique Falling Down as a flawed Hobbesian fable, pitched ambiguously at the evils of late twenti-eth-centuiy corporate capitalism.

Michael Douglas's range is conspicuously narrower than his father's. He also does not quite own Kirk Douglas's startling good looks: The eye is duller, with a tight, ungenerous quality about the mouth. In the late 1980s and for most of the 1990s, Douglas carved out a formidable career cleverly exploiting these very limitations and bellying up to Hobbes.

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