Have you ever fallen asleep in the back of a car and woke up not knowing where you are or how you got there. Did you find a slight pain in your lower back suggesting there was bumps in the road but somehow they failed to jolt you awake? Now imagine you were awake the whole time but still do not know where you are, how you got there, or where those bumps came from... Welcome to the joy of watching 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Now you may think my little introduction suggests this film is quite lame, but in fact the opposite is true. If you were a passenger that had suffered that journey it would leave you with a sense of mystery,intrigue and wonderment. You would ask how the hell you got here, and that for me is the question Three Billboards leaves you with.
At the core this is an epic exploration of how pain and suffering can consume a soul and leave them blind to everyone else's pain but their own. Our protagonist, Mildred, is burning with blind conviction to seek justice for her murdered daughter, she fails to see the conflict and unbalance in every single other character,most notably is the slow death from cancer for Police Chief Willoughby. This is beautifully explored with the stark expression of understanding performed by actress Francis McDormand, as her character, Mildred, discovers the truth.
The major draw back for this film and, for our protagonist, is that it is hard to see the route of conflict for almost every other character. The director and writer had to use exposition in the form of a letter to explain the conflict for the main antagonist, Jason Dixon. So if the audience cannot be sure why these characters are so messed up how is Mildred supposed to know!
I could not help but feel that this film had only two worthwhile characters, the rest acted mostly as facilitators to the plot and a function to drive the narrative forward. However, they were all shouting the same tune, that Mildred was trapped in a state of despair. The abusive ex-husband holding her as an emotional hostage, the over-the-top useless cops failing to do their job, and the small town residents that do not seem to like the fact that their street is shaking under earthquake Mildred. Mildred is a prisoner to her own despair, having no one to trust and no one seemingly willing or able to pursue the justice she seeks.
This beautiful screenshot sums up her torment. She stands as if handcuffed, wearing an outfit so similar to a prisoners uniform. The police station behind her has her backed up against the forth wall like she is about to be frisked for dangerous intentions.
Despite conflicting conflicts, yes that’s a thing now, this film is fast paced and so much is thrown onto your plate that you have barely finished your mains when dessert is thrown at you. Perhaps this is why the characters often do not make sense and why the redemption of a racist, narrow minded and violent cop is done with a simple apology.
We also never get an answer as to who killed Mildred’s daughter. Leaving us at the end of the journey with a sore back and no idea how we got there. If the screenplay is the car that carried us to our destination then it is the passengers that make the journey enjoyable, which in this case are the actors. Each member of the cast provided suspension that eased the pain of the bumps and craters along the journey.
If you want plausible narrative and a conceivable story, do not watch this film. If you wish to have your heart squeezed and your soul shaken go watch the film. The very best thing about this film is the actors, otherwise it would have crashed and burned like a dodgy old Morris Minor. I have long been a fan of Woody Harrilson and I am so pleased to see him back with strong and emotive characters.
So in summary, a decent exploration of human suffering mixed with larger than life characters that are often unbelievable. If you like a film to give answers, this is not for you. Ironic really or perhaps a statement that if Mildred did not find answers, then why should you!
The Meaning of Billboards.
Textual Analysis – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. For Master’s Degree - Falmouth University
In the opening scene our protagonist, Mildred, is surrounded by a barren landscape, looking at dilapidated advertising boards. The billboards are devoid of purpose, abandoned and forgotten; it is these factors, in emotional form, that motivate our protagonist to action. A number of years previous Mildred’s daughter was raped and murdered. The police have failed to find a suspect and the road to justice is as barren as the landscape surrounding Mildred and those billboards. The isolation and desolate location of the billboards can be considered a representation of the vulnerability and loneliness that suffocates Mildred.
Mildred is devoid of hope in finding justice and longs for her plight to be seen again and bring the horrendous crime back to the attention of those who live in the town and more importantly the Police. The billboards offer Mildred a chance to be seen again, to literally advertise her despair. It is also possible to depict a sense of panic and desperation from how close each Billboard is in proximity to each other. If the signs were spread out the message would be slow and paced, but these three come quick and fast like a cry for help.