While many would likely choose Michael Douglas’ character Essay

While many would likely choose Michael Douglas’ character, William Foster, as their character of choice to discuss criminological theory from Falling Down, this assignment will instead focus on a secondary character in the film: Amanda Prendergast. Amanda, wife to Sgt. Martin Prendergast, demonstrates some possible effects of General Strain Theory (GST), posited by Robert Agnew. Something to note is that this perspective and analysis did require some creative freedom with regards to Amanda’s character background. While she is not entirely central to the film, she did provide an interesting subject of analysis nonetheless, and with some supporting content, could be a viable candidate for the effects of strain theory.

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Though within the film Amanda’s character is not primary, analyzing her character via what is seen by the viewer when she interacts with her husband, Martin, as well as through analysis of storytelling when Martin discusses his wife, provide context to possible criminal behavior and the possible mental state of Amanda.

Within the context of the film, it can be inferred that Amanda murdered her daughter when she was just two years old.

To begin, some basics of GST according to Agnew, include: GST occurs when “…people engage in crime because they experience strains or stressors…And they may cope with their strains and negative emotions through crime. Crime is a way to reduce or escape from strains” (Agnew, 2000, p. 140). Agnew also explains that there are three types of strains: Loss of something valued, receiving something bad, or failure to achieve something wanted (Agnew, 2000, p.142). He also describes objective and subjective types of strains. He describes objective strains as a situation or occurrence that is disliked by most people, while subjective strains are individualized, and refer to something disliked by one person (Agnew, 2000, p.142). Agnew also discusses various characteristics of strains, which can be applied to Amanda.

Throughout the film, interactions with and descriptions of Amanda indicate an unstable mental state. During the film, Amanda demonstrates this in various phone calls to her husband, Martin. These include,

[Scene]

Martin: “Prendergast here.”

Amanda: “It’s me. I wish you were home. Wouldn’t you come home now?”

Martin: “What’s wrong?”

Amanda: “I don’t know. I got a little scared . . . and I’d like you to come home.”

Martin: “What is it, honey?”

Amanda: “I don’t know. I was wrapping some . . . some glasses up and some things…and I got really scared. You’re not doing this move just for me, are you? You really want to do it, don’t you?”

Martin: “The important thing is we’re together. That’s what counts.”

Amanda: “Yeah, but you’re not here.”

Martin: “Well, I will be soon, baby.”

Amanda: “Say it.”

Martin: “…”

Amanda: “Say it!”

Martin: “I’ll be home soon.”

Amanda: “No, say it!”

Martin: “I’ll be home soon, and I love you.”

Amanda: “I love you too.”

Martin: Feel better?

Amanda: “No, I don’t feel better!”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

Martin also comments on Amanda’s mental and emotional state in dialogue with a coworker,

[Scene]

Sandra: “Lake Havasu?”

Martin: “It’s nice. We like it.”

Sandra: “She likes it. What’ll you do, watch cactus grow?

Martin: “Cacti. She’s not handling middle age too well. The change of life and all that, whatever it is that is.

Sandra: “What about you?”

Martin: “Me? It’s different, because she’s a woman.”

Sandra: “Different? I’m a woman.”

Martin: “But she was once very beautiful.”

Sandra: “Thanks a lot!”

Martin: “You know what I mean. Come on, come on. She could’ve been anything. Anything but a cop’s wife.”

Sandra: “She’s high-strung. Don’t give me that queen of the hop, homecoming-queen bullshit again. That was a long time ago.”

Martin: “Sandra, you have a career. It’s hard to lose your beauty when that’s all you’ve got.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

Amanda also reacts sharply when Martin talks about a possible retirement party, which can be telling of generalized insecurity,

[Scene]

Martin: “It’s my last day. The guys might want to have a send-off or something.”

Amanda: “What’re they gonna do? Get some broad . . . with tassels dangling, dancing on your desk?”

Martin: “‘Course not.”

Amanda: “Look, while you have been playing cop . . . . I’ m at home planning your retirement. It’s over. The sooner you get that, the better. You are no longer in the law-enforcement business. Now, I will expect you at the usual time.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

In the above example, it can also be observed that Amanda doesn’t take Martin and his occupation as a police Sergeant seriously, by referring to him as ‘playing cop’. This can suggest that Amanda may be unsatisfied or disapproving of the occupation choice, or may lack respect for the position as an officer for her husband. Martin also references an event that occurred previously with Amanda, which can further demonstrate an unstable mental state,

[Scene]

Martin: “What happens between me and my wife is nobody’s business but mine! Sorry, I’ve been a bitch all day. She didn’t make me quit. I came home late one night . . . and found her sitting in the dark. She thought I’d been killed. She thought I was a ghost. I had to chase her all over the house.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

Another more revealing section of dialogue indicates traditional social values present within the Prendergasts’ relationship, the social value being how women as homemakers were treated and the expectations placed upon them,

[Scene]

Martin: “Oh, boy. Hon?”

Amanda: “Yeah, “hon.” I know who that was! Mr. Peepers just scratched the shit out of me . . . and I’ m bleeding like a stuck pig.”

Martin: “Something important’s come up.”

Amanda: “What am l? Dog vomit? Your wife says she’s bleeding to death . . . and you say something important has come up? When are you coming home?”

Martin: “I don’t know.”

Amanda: “Don’t tell me you don’t know. I want to know when the hell you’re coming home, now!”

Martin: “Amanda, shut up! Did you hear me? Shut up! I’ll get home when I’ m finished, not a second before. Is that clear? Is that clear?”

Amanda: “You don’t have to bite my head off.”

Martin: “And you to have dinner ready and waiting for me, okay? And leave the skin on the chicken. All right?”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

And finally, perhaps the most revealing section of dialogue in the film, reveals possibly the most damning evidence of Amanda acting on her unstable mental state, during an exchange between Martin and, interestingly enough, Foster. This section occurs after Martin references Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to where he is retiring.

[Scene]

Martin: “They call it a lake, but it’s really just a big bowl of muddy water. But the wife thinks it’s paradise. You know, my wife never was cut out for motherhood. She did it all for me. Went through all that pain, ‘n lost her figure, for me. Then the kid went to sleep one night, never woke up. They called it “Infant Death . . . Syndrome.” But she wasn’t an infant. She was 2 years old. She was a big girl. She was our baby. What can you do? If she’d been hit by a drunk driver. . . .But who do you blame when they just don’t wake up?”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

Now, assessing the various bits of dialogue and exposition provided regarding Amanda, there is some external assumptions that need to be made. One is regarding the Prendergasts’ status in society. First, Classic Strain Theory suggests, “…individuals are pressured into crime. Most commonly, it has been argued that they are pressured into crime when they are prevented from achieving cultural goals like monetary success or middle-class status through legitimate channels” (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2018, p. 107). Concerning this emphasis on achieving cultural goals, common social goals of American culture vary between men and women. According to the Pew Research Center, physical attractiveness and empathy/nurturing/kindness were the top listed traits for women (Parker, Horowitz, Stepler, & Pew Research Center, 2018). Pew Research also explains that between social pressures faced between men and women, a much larger emphasis is placed on women with regards to their physical attractiveness, (Parker, Horowitz, Stepler, & Pew Research Center, 2018).

This being said, specific sections of dialogue help explain how Amanda may be experiencing the effects of strain theory:

[Scene]

Martin: “She’s not handling middle age too well. The change of life and all that, whatever it is that is.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

[Scene]

Martin: Me? It’s different, because she’s a woman.

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

[Scene]

Martin: Sandra, you have a career. It’s hard to lose your beauty when that’s all you’ve got.

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

[Scene]

Amanda: What’re they gonna do? Get some broad . . . with tassels dangling, dancing on your desk?

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

It can be inferred from Martin that Amanda has been having difficulty adjusting to her life having ‘lost’ her ability to achieve the cultural goal of being physically attractive. Regardless of whether or not Martin finds his wife attractive, these specific lines of dialogue demonstrate that there have been chronic problems in the home with regards to how Amanda is handling this drastic life perspective change. Also, Amanda’s physical insecurities is evident in her comments immediately following Martin saying that his coworkers may throw him a party. She is immediately defensive and alludes to the level of attractiveness of the hypothetical ‘broad’ that Martin may encounter. Regarding GST, self-esteem with relation to attractiveness may constitute a subjective strain. Some people may place very little emphasis on social comparison in their own lives, but for Amanda, this appears to be a large contributing factor to her unstable mental state.

Regarding other cultural goals, such as monetary or status success, opinions on this can be observed in dialogue directly from Amanda,

[Scene]

Amanda: “Look, while you have been playing cop . . . . I’m at home planning your retirement.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

Amanda’s lines of dialogue suggest a lack of respect or lack of support regarding Martin’s occupation. By suggesting he is ‘playing cop’, Amanda is demonstrating that his work is not to be taken seriously by her, and that perhaps she has been appeasing him while he has been working in law enforcement as she is now making demands regarding him and his retirement. It’s also evident that Amanda may lack actual concern for Martin’s opinions on their plans, as is suggested in dialogue Martin has with other people,

[Scene]

Sandra: “Lake Havasu?”

Martin: “It’s nice. We like it.”

Sandra: “She likes it. What’ll you do, watch cactuses grow?”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

[Scene]

Martin: “They call it a lake, but it’s really just a big bowl of muddy water. But the wife thinks it’s paradise.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

Now, Amanda does demonstrate some hesitation regarding the move, saying,

[Scene]

Amanda: “You’re not doing this move just for me, are you? You really want to do it, don’t you?”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

However, these questions are undermined by her blatant lack of respect for Martin’s final day on the job.

[Scene]

Amanda: “You come home then.”

Martin: “I can’t.”

Amanda: “It’s your last day. What are they going to do, fire you?”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

[Scene]

Amanda: “It’s over. The sooner you get that, the better. You are no longer in the law-enforcement business.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

All of this points to a general disappointment and lack of satisfaction with her living arrangement. And this is supported by Martin’s comment that Amanda,

[Scene]

Martin: “She could’ve been anything. Anything but a cop’s wife.”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

This suggests that even Martin is aware that Amanda was dissatisfied and may have felt like opportunities were taken from her by his status as an officer.

Finally, Martin explains the ‘incident’ and indirectly suggests reasoning as to why it

occurred,

[Scene]

Martin: “You know, my wife never was cut out for motherhood. She did it all for me. Went through all that pain, ‘n lost her figure, for me. Then the kid went to sleep one night, never woke up. They called it “Infant Death . . . Syndrome.” But she wasn’t an infant. She was 2 years old. She was a big girl. She was our baby. What can you do? If she’d been hit by a drunk driver. . . .But who do you blame when they just don’t wake up?”

(Schumacher, Harris, Kopelson, and Weingrod, 1993).

Now, regarding strain theory, Merton suggested typology classifications for deviance. While there are five types (Conformity, Innovation, Ritualism, Retreatism, and Rebellion) the strongest type for Amanda is rebellion (Merton, 1938, p.119). This is described as,

“…wherein the individual rejects both the cultural goals and traditional means of achieving them but actively attempts to replace both elements of the society with different goals and means” (Boundless Society).

Regarding rebellion, the cultural goals that would have been in place for Amanda to achieve would be elevated social status and a socially ideal personal physical appearance. From the dialogue presented, it is evident that Amanda felt she had lost both. Her lack of support or respect for Martin’s occupation demonstrates that she was disappointed in his choice of work, and therefore lacked the satisfaction in her social status. Pertaining to her loss of an ideal physical appearance, this seems to have occurred after their daughter was born.

Now, while these missing goals from Amanda may support the presence of some effects of strain theory, what is lacking is the motive for the crime itself: The murder of Amanda and Martin’s daughter. This can be explained via her unstable mental state. While her mental state decline was most likely caused by these strains weighing on Amanda, what cannot be neglected is the possible occurrence of one more strain: Postpartum depression.

It is possible that Amanda may have suffered from a serious case of postpartum depression- specifically delayed postpartum psychosis. This is described as, “a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery — the signs and symptoms are severe…and symptoms may include:

Confusion and disorientation

Obsessive thoughts about your baby

Hallucinations and delusions

Sleep disturbances

Excessive energy and agitation

Paranoia

Attempts to harm yourself or your baby

Postpartum psychosis may lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors and requires immediate treatment”

(Mayo Clinic, 2018).

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