Three Billboards (2) – Obscure to Whom?
January 20, 2018 § 2 Comments
This follows on from my previous post, Three Billboards, published on January 15.
Dixon, stopping his police car in front of a billboard: ‘What’s this?’
‘Advertising’ replies the young man pasting on the poster. His is the first black face we see.
Dixon: ‘What kind?’
Young man, smiling: ‘Something obscure.’
That ‘something obscure’ is arresting. Obscure to whom? Maybe not to someone who uses the word.
Dixon, never quick on the uptake, is at a loss with this answer. He doesn’t recognise Jerome, but Jerome knows him, as a cop notorious for ‘torturing black folks’– in Mildred’s words – and maybe from having been the one tortured.
In a sense the film is all about what’s obscure, though not to its black characters. Which is why they aren’t at its centre. They’re not sidelined, they see the present more clearly, from a position of acute experience. And in the case of Abercrombie (Clarke Peters, late of The Wire, like the actor playing Jerome), ultimately of control.
Although Frances McDormand’s portrayal of Mildred is forceful and convincing, this isn’t entirely a realist movie. Martin McDonagh has a talent for mixing genres (In Bruges combined gangster crime with comedy) and, behaving as if they’re stuck in a Western, his central characters in Three Billboards fail to perceive the realities of their world, a world that has mistreated them and filled them with fury.
Three billboards is a serious film, about things that matter. It doesn’t preach, it uses metaphor as it uses humour, for its indirectness, its potential to engage an audience in difficult questions to which it might otherwise be hostile. Since it’s a film with wide appeal, that audience is likely to include many of those working-class Americans who, against their own interests, voted for Trump.
Mildred and Dixon end up not as heroes but allies just beginning to see the light.