Important Takeaways from Three Billboards
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Anger Begets Greater Anger: Lessons for America From Small-Town Murder in Ebbing

Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri weaves a profound tale and tells of how best to deal with profound anger.

Anger Begets Greater Anger: Lessons for America From Small-Town Murder in Ebbing

Approximately 84 minutes ago I finished watching Martin McDonagh's latest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

All I can say is that it was a whirlwind. A punching bag of emotions from start to finish. If you've seen the movie, you likely know what I'm talking about. For myself, not knowing much about it besides its crime-drama billing and its Oscar accolades, I walked in (mostly) unaware.

For those who haven't seen it, Three Billboardsis a story set in the fictional Missouri town of Ebbing and picks up roughly seven months after Mildred Hayes' (Frances MacDormand) daughter is raped and murdered. Discontent with the local police department and their perceived inaction on the case, Mildred purchases three dilapidated billboards on the outskirts of town to display messages questioning the absence of any arrests and pointing the finger at Police Chief Bill Wiloughby (Woody Harrelson). Doing so antagonizes a variety of elements throughout the town, kicking off a maelstrom of violence and mayhem.

Yet frankly, what I'm here to talk about isn't the movie per se, rather largely a single line from the film: anger begets greater anger.

The terminology in itself is actually a much older one than the 2017 movie. Derived in part from biblical sources, and used by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the context of the civil rights movement, the term speaks in large part for itself.

Violence begets violence. Hate begets hate. Anger begets greater anger.

That's abundantly clear in Three Billboards, but I worry often that it's something we lose sight of in the immediate moment and in our own reality. Especially in the Information Age, as one's reality narrows further and further with the tailoring of media, both traditional and social, to fit a narrative that is rigid, the power of that anger and hate turning inward is one that is all too invisible.

I do mean this in every political sense of the word. I would be remiss to skip mentioning Donald Trump, but that dead horse is beat so often that what often gets overlooked is the hate that drove Trump's election in the first place; that is hate for what has long been dominant and, in the eyes of its opponents, must be undone. Whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality. These markers have become not just talking points but very real singularities of hate in modern America.

Perhaps beyond politics as well, and especially outside a left vs. right spectrum, there is hate apparent as well. The ongoing wars in the Middle East, cultural and military clashes in Ukraine, less known human rights abuses like those going on in West Papua, and even domestically in the form of murder or crime more generally, set this example. And though all of these may have an air of politicism, they still strike to the heart of the concept: diametrically opposed hates.

I must grant, that as the ardent optimist I am, I don't believe we're all consumed by blistering hate. At least, not in the manic fashion that McDonagh crafts in Ebbing. Yet, there is no denying that hate is made manifest in our world, and to a greater extent, made manifest in ourselves.

It's a story told over from Christ to Star Wars: hate and anger projected outwards breeds the worst of humanity inwards. What I'm saying is nothing novel, yet we must be more acutely aware of it now I think, in a time, I think, that allows for the instant transmission of any message, and by proxy, any thought, feeling, or emotion. Hate included wholesale.

What must we do?

I think a gravity of deliberateness would be an excellent place to start. An acknowledgment of the world in all its messy nuance and a realization that there exists beyond this body a space that is much larger than can be dreamed and souls much more beautiful and ugly, joyful and sad than could ever be fully realized. Deliberateness to avoid the trap of absolutism; the fallacy of single-party dominance.

That is not to say we must not be passionate about things. Oh no certainly. When Donald Trump says things like "why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" or when Samuel L. Jackson said that it is "unfair shit" that the 2012 Republican convention wasn't struck by Hurricane Isaac, those are visceral comments that do not unduly warrant visceral responses.

The key is tempering that response to the point of not hating, but constructing. Not tearing and dividing, punishing blindly as to inflict the most amount of damage possible in scorched-earth fashion, but to craft such a way as to strike the hate dead and ensure that it propagates no further.

I don't pretend doing such to be an easy task, but then again it wouldn't necessarily be a difficult question if it had an easy answer.

As the curtains closed on my viewing of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri I was, frankly, left dumbfounded. Never before had a movie dropped my jaw with twist after tantalizing twist. Just as I was sure I had a fit and a feel for what was about to happen, the rug was swept out from under me.

Yet, what has stuck with me most in these waning Friday hours is the embrace of messiness that the film portrays, as well as that phrase: anger begets greater anger. When Mildred hears it as she confronts her ex-husband, it forces her into one of her few (and truly among her deepest) inward moments. Throughout she has been busy hurling stones at her enemies, sometimes not without good reason. And yet, throughout the process, she has not thought to or has not had the courage to look at herself and truly examine the messiness that inhabits not only the world but also each individual.

On the silver screen, we have found the courage to look. I charge we must do the same under own breathing sky, upon our own living ground.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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