Speaking of movies, which I was in my March 25 blog article, last month June and I watched “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Not just because it was one of the movies nominated for Best Picture of 2017, but because we are Missourians we had looked forward to seeing the movie soon after it came out on DVD.
Praise for “Three Billboards”
Clearly, “Three Billboards” was an excellently made movie with great acting—especially by Frances McDormand, winner of the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Mildred, the sad, angry central character.
Although the film itself did not win the Oscar, it did win Best Motion Picture at the 75th Golden Globe Awards.
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin declared (here) that at it was the “best religious film” of 2017. He explained that it was “about sin, forgiveness, and redemption.” It seemed to me, though, that it was mostly about the former, and only a very little about the latter two—and even that depended largely on what you think Mildred and the “bad cop” did after the movie ended.
Criticism of “Three Billboards”
My evaluation of the movie is rather negative. Of lesser importance is my criticism that it didn’t seem authentic to south Missouri—and in fact, it was filmed in North Carolina!
The central motif of there being three large billboards on a two-lane blacktop road outside a small south Missouri town is quite questionable—but not as much as to think they would rent for $5,000 a month.
(Actually, Martin McDonagh, the Irish screenplay writer, got the idea for the film years ago when he saw three billboards on a bus trip down I-10 not far from Beaumont, Texas.)
Also, while there are many foul-mouthed people in Missouri, it is a stretch to think that a small town in south Missouri would have so many--and to think that the police chief would use such foul language even when talking to his young daughters.
On a deeper level, there is the whole matter of how much “redemption” and “grace” is found in “Three Billboards.” On this matter, and with helpful references to Flannery O’Connor, consider this perceptive article in Vox.
I certainly couldn’t see much evidence of forgiveness and redemption. It was mostly about seeking revenge, couched in terms of “penal justice.”
Revenge is certainly a highly popular theme of movies and TV shows—doubtlessly because it is such a widespread human desire.
That was the main thing, though, I didn’t like about “Three Billboards.” Mildred’s anger was certainly understandable. But her ongoing hatred for those who abused/killed her daughter was making her life, and the lives of those around her, miserable.
Two other popular movies come to mind that, for me, were tainted by their emphasis on revenge. Recently, and for the first time, June and I also watched the classic (cult) movie “The Princess Bride.” It was delightful in many ways—but it was mainly about revenge, so I ended up not liking it.
Then a couple of years ago I went with my grandson David to see the beautifully done 2015 movie “The Revenant.” It was impressive in many ways; the scenery and the performance of the central character played by Leonardo DiCaprio were outstanding. But I ended up not liking that movie either—for the same reason: it mostly based on seeking revenge.
So I renounce revenge, for in the wise words of the noted ethicist Lewis B. Smedes: “The problem with revenge is that it never evens the score. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain.”