THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Martin McDonagh, 2017
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) wants the world to know about her anger.
Mildred’s daughter Angel was found raped and murdered. Seven months later, the identity of the killer remains unknown. No one seems to know. So Mildred rents three billboards outside the city to drag the attention to this case. She also challenges the local chief of Police William ‘Bill’ Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) directly.
This makes waves in this small town. She gets a little support but her initiative mostly gets many people upset, especially Police officer James Dixon (Sam Rockwell) and even her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) who sets the billboards on fire.
Things get even more complicated after Willoughby commits suicide – because of his cancer. The letters he sent after his death to Mildred and Dixon will help them to reconcile and eventually make peace. The investigation is still not making any progress. But the two of them now collaborate to find the assassin and kill him. Maybe.
Are you sure about this?
‘Bout killing this guy? Not really. You?
Not really. I guess we can decide along the way.
Three Billboards is about finding the words.
We sometimes get stuck in the trafic. Some people are able to get out of their car and dance (cf La La Land) but the reality is not always that simple. As life goes by, the injuries accumulate, with more and more pain. We keep quiet. We hide. The wounds get infected. Finding the words is a way to acknowledge the problem and call for help. This is a first step towards better days.
In Ebbing, people are not used to talk. It’s a city ruled by laziness, racism, violence, mediocrity, injustice and omerta. As a result people are always angry and act stupid. Cops torture black people. It’s the norm. Rapists run. No one talks about those things, as if it was a global resignation. Mildred refuses to give up. She screams her despair on those billboards. Not so much to blame Willoughby but to ask for his help. And this will create a reaction. This will be a wake up call for everyone.
Mildred’s boldness inspires the people around her, including Willoughby. He was dying slowly, doing nothing about it. Those billboards will force him to face death with courage. His suicide is not a way to give up but instead to liberate. He will find the words too.
His letter to Mildred will help her understand that he cared and he tried as much as possible. It was not enough unfortunately. But Mildred needed to know the person in charge did not let her down.
His letter to Dixon is enlightening.
Jason, Willoughby here. I’m dead now, sorry about that. There’s something I wanted to say to you that I never really said when I was alive. I think you’ve got the makings of being a really good cop, Jason, and you know why? Because, deep down, you’re a decent man. I know you don’t think I think that, but I do, dipshit. I do think you’re too angry though, and I know it’s all since your dad died and you had to go look after your mom and all, but as long as you hold on to so much hate, then I don’t think you’re ever going to become, what I know you want to become – a detective. ‘Cause you know what you need to become a detective? And I know you’re gonna wince when I say this, but what you need to become a detective is love. Because through love comes calm, and through calm comes thought. And you need thought to detect stuff sometimes, Jason. It’s kinda all you need. You don’t even need a gun. And you definitely don’t need hate. Hate never solved nothing, but calm did. And thought did. Try it. Try it just for a change. No one’ll think you’re gay. And if they do, arrest ’em for homophobia! Won’t they be surprised! Good luck to you, Jason. You’re a decent man, and yeah you’ve had a run of bad luck, but things are gonna change for you. I can feel it.
Dixon is a new man. He now has the courage to go through the fire to preserve Angela’s files. He gives a purpose to his life. He has the courage to apologize to Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) after he beat him up. He takes the hits to identify a suspect. He offers Mildred to go to Idaho to find the man she’s looking for.
Thanks to Mildred’s words on a billboard, Willoughby stepped up. He made something positive out of his suicide. Mildred and Dixon do not even know but they let their anger behind. They understood vengeance is not a solution. Killing someone will not bring Angela back. Hope is not dead.
Can we live or are we doomed to survive? What prevents us from communicating? What words could we use?
This publication reflects the views only of the author.