“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – Anger is a Woman

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri


Title: “Three Billboard

Release Date: 2017

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish




From the very first scenes Martin McDonagh’s film draws the viewer into its inner, disturbing world. It infects the viewer with the emotions of the characters, exposes human wickedness and arouses rebellion. It does not, however, offer any solace – at the center of the film’s reality is a distraught mother whose only weapon in her fight with the world is anger.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – a woman at war with the world

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a film whose striking power stems from the director’s innovative approach to the usual schemes. Martin McDonagh plays with the conventions of the genre as well as with the traditional creation of the characters, therefore he constantly plays with the audience’s expectations. It seems that we are dealing with a classic story about a mother who is looking for the murderer of her teenage daughter. The story takes place in a small American town in the south of the USA. A desperate woman (played by Frances McDormand), seeing the sluggishness of the local law enforcement, decides to take matters into her own hands and force the services to act. To this end, she buys three advertising billboards along the main road, on which she places accusations against the police chief and details of the girl’s death.

In the conventional version of the story, the heroine’s action would touch the conscience of the residents, and the lawmen would beat their chests and find the perpetrator of the crime unpunished. This, however, is not the case. Mildred Hayes’ action meets with the resistance of the entire community – everyone perceives it as an attack on Bill Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson), a respected sheriff struggling with cancer, and even a Catholic pastor stands against the woman.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing movie review

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing…” is a film that puts the woman-mother in the foreground and portrays her powerlessness in the face of a heartless world. The character of Mildred seems almost symbolic. Her situation reflects the social status of women in a patriarchal order. The state (with the local police as its icon) and the church completely disregard the powerless mother and unceremoniously show her a place in line. When Mildred decides to show her strong side, her attitude shatters the order of the entire community. A mother can suffer, but showing her pain openly is unacceptable, as it does not fit into the traditional rules. What is more, Mildred’s only allies are a gay man and a dwarf – which places her among the excluded and discriminated groups.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – reversal of traditional roles

The role of the main heroine of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing” is one of the strongest points of McDonagh’s film. Frances McDormand comes off phenomenally on screen – she is a distraught mother whose anger is capable of moving heaven and earth. What is Mildred really fighting for? Not only to punish her daughter’s murderer, but to restore her dignity. In a heartless world, the death of a rebellious teenager seems meaningless to everyone. The roadside billboards are thus a cry to stir dead consciences and shake people’s hearts.

Mildred’s appearance and behavior are extremely significant. She is a heroine stripped of her femininity – “masculine” – neglectful, vulgar, and aggressive. With her extraordinary intelligence and sharp wit, she is a clear counterbalance to the men who, even if they have attributes of power (such as policemen with guns), are devoid of flair and, above all, real courage. In this respect, the character of a mama’s boy and racist, officer James Dixon (Sam Rockwell), is particularly memorable. Paradoxically, it is him who undergoes the most spectacular transformation. What we have here is a perverse, gendered reversal of traditional gender roles.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing film analysis

Furthermore, Mildred seems almost exaggerated in her denial of femininity, but it is precisely this fact that makes her unusually strong. It seems that the protagonist cannot forget her anger for even a second, because it is what allows her to act uncompromisingly. Only as an angry and recalcitrant woman is she able to overcome her fear of social pressure. In this peculiar diagnosis, the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing…” seems rather pessimistic – women have enormous strength inside them, but they can use it only in extreme situations, McDonagh seems to be saying. Of course, there are also associations with the “#MeToo” campaign initiated by the Hollywood women’s community, exposing the problem of sexual harassment.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – a symbolic three and an open ending

It is worth noting the precise construction of the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing…” For example, the title three is repeated at different levels of the picture. For not only do we have three billboards, but also three main characters: Mildred, Sheriff Willoughby, and Officer Jason Dixon. What is more, the suicidal police chief writes three letters: to his wife, to Mildred, and to Dixon. The three, then, seem to have symbolic significance – traditionally referring to biblical meanings as a sign of completeness, harmony, and the sacred. Perhaps it represents a promise of consolation – the ultimate solace of maternal pain.

Much could also be said about the film’s convention, which is a kind of play on genre cinema. It is certainly not a classic drama. Due to the specific atmosphere of the movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing…” critics see here references to, for example, a western black comedy in the style of Quentin Tarantino. In my opinion the film’s open ending, in which the main plot is not at all resolved and the viewer is left in a state of uncomfortable uncertainty, brings to mind associations with a completely different cinema, namely with Michelangelo Antonioni’s films, especially with “L’avventura” and “Blow-Up”.

But is “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing…” an outstanding picture? Certainly it is a significant movie, if only because of the great roles and the raw portrayal of women, which does not have many prototypes in Hollywood. Nevertheless, for me, McDonagh’s film lacks something intangible that would make it more memorable. Perhaps the main character’s pain is too much to approach, or perhaps the complete stripping away of her femininity leads her to fall into another extreme?