Sunday, February 18, 2018

Thoughts on Three Billboards

I've been hearing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ever since it came out, and a lot of it didn't appeal to me. It was one I knew I wanted to see, but I didn't think I would enjoy. And honestly, there are a lot of films like that. There are a lot of stories that speak to higher truths that aren't made to delight you. But they make you think. And that's exactly what Three Billboards does.

The main plot follows Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) a grieving, enraged mother who starts to up the ante in solving her daughter's rape and murder by publicly calling out the local police for incompetence. Obviously, the police aren't thrilled with this, namely Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). And things sort of escalate from there.

It's hard to go into the rest of the film without going into spoilers, so if you want to see it with fresh eyes, stop reading here.

From all I'd heard about the backlash about the film, I had expected it to be a bit more obvious in carrying a message that perpetuates "otherness." But after seeing it, I really need to disagree with the argument that the film makes a deliberate attempt to redeem anyone by its conclusion.

In fact, I'd argue that the entire point of the film is that people are, by nature, flawed and incapable of being either wholly good or bad. 

The movie makes no excuses for any of its characters, and it hardly condones the behavior of them. Mildred assaults several people throughout the movie, either in her own defense, or to bring attention to something she finds unjust. But this mentality of rogue vigilanteism goes in several directions. She is nearly arrested for drilling through a dentist's thumb, her son has to deal with her assaulting his schoolmates, she has to deal with the guilt of burning Officer Dixon's face.

Same with Chief Willoughby. He tries and fails to solve the case of Mildred's daughter. He spends a whole glorious day with his family, only to violently end his life and leave his wife and kids behind. Does this make him a good person or a bad person?

And the same with Officer Dixon. After projecting his own inadequacies through anger, he's confronted with the consequences of his own actions. After throwing a harmless kid out of the window, he's forced to see and experience what he's done, sharing a hospital room with him. And he even experiences a bit of an epiphany after he's shown kindness from him, in spite of how hard he beat him up. Despite this, Dixon still drives off to kill who they've defined as the suspect at the end of the film.

I find it hard to believe that this is a story of redemption. I really read it as a story of grief and justice, and circumstance and consequence. So much of what we do is privy to circumstance rather than justice, regardless of intention. Angela Hayes' murder is despicable but, as we learn, sometimes there isn't enough evidence to pull a suspect. And revenge is a powerful motivator but, as we learn, is not always an effective course of action beyond catharsis.

I think, at its core, Three Billboards highlights the duality in everyone. That being a good or bad person is in the eye of the beholder, that actions have consequences, and that we all just need to try.

8 outa 10. Extremely thought-provoking and stellar acting by the entire cast.