Essay Topic 9 "There's one thing that we have in this country, and that's ways of fighting back. " How does On the Waterfront explore the power of the individual? The 1954 film, On the Waterfront, subliminally validates Director Elli Khan's message that, in a world of oppression and despair, individual empowerment can be earned by those who act in accordance to their moral conscience. In a world plagued by mob tyranny, administered through corrupt unions, the socially progressive film proves that the individual's ability to fight back is often limited.
By skillfully crafting the horse-trading of the protagonist, Terry Mallory, as a fighter against forces threatening democracy, Kane prompts his intended pseudoscience to similarly fight against oppressive forces for the collective good. However, Terry is not always an ardent warrior for Justice and first has to evolve from being a "lousy stinking' bum". This transformation is only completed through the enlisted aid of the angelic Edie, revealing that individual empowerment is often externally influenced.
Reeking of oppression and constraint, Kane uses the physicality of the Hoboken docks to convey world that "anti a part of America", where corruption and the "love of a lousy buck" has dominated the desperate majority. By filming on real life docks the essence of hopelessness felt by actual longshoremen is contained, thus making the film slightly more socially confronting and the need for change slightly more urgent.
As a representation for the American Dream, the ever-present Manhattan Skyline is, for the most part, stuck behind fences or cloaked by fog, implying a physical barrier between success and the longshoremen, who are powerless to do anything but "Just take it". We are presented with generations of men caught in the cuckold of a "code" that has perverted every aspect of their lives, making them constantly look out for the "hawks" who "hang around on the top of the big hotels". It is this paranoia which constantly undermines the longshoreman's ability to be empowered or achieve any aspects of the American dream.
The grim unforgiving nature of the docks further instills the feeling that it is "every man for himself", similar to a metaphysical Jungle as enforced by the opening strains of Leonard Bernstein score. As evidenced by Terry Mallory breaking out of the Jungle is not an easy feet, however, it is necessary in the process of "fighting back". Through the characterization of the young Edie Doyle and the newly transformed Terry Mallory we see a glimpse for an opportunity for change on the waterfront.
Edie Doyle is first introduced submerged with a white light, strongly contrasting the dark, gritty landscape of Hoboken. This disparity not only represents her virtue but also they way she remains untainted from the "laws of the jungle". Without hesitation she is desperate to "find out who killed" her brother and ring change to the community on the innocent basis that "everybody' should "care about everybody else". However, due to the masculine, oppressive nature of the docks, Die's innocent nature limits her ability to bring change.
As a result she heavily relies on the "tough" Terry to put a dent in the masculine world of the docks. By nurturing Terry's shift from an ambivalent conformer to a courageous "hero", Edie utilizes her "wars of fighting back" therefore exercising her power. Due to the lack of clarity over the courtroom climax Terry must face Johnny in the "Jungle". By "fighting eke he used to", Terry nears the end of his Journey to redemption. Despite "speaking out" and being rejected from the community, Terry's redemption is cemented when he rises to "win the war" and staggers up a metaphorical 'Calvary hill'.
Followed by a legion of longshoremen it is depicted that Terry is now carrying the burdens of a whole community, looking to him as being their savior. By doing this Kane empowers the individual to feel as if they too, could overturn the corrupt status quo of the era. Despite Terry's glorified final march the extent in which true change has en brought is unclear. On the Waterfront can be described as a social problem film due to the concerns it arouses in the audience, going beyond the resolution of the immediate story.
The lack of determination in the film, solidified by Johnny Friendly avowing that he "will be back", signifies the limited extent of individuals to bring change. Whilst Terry has been personally empowered the core of the problem has not been patched. Although Terry is no longer oppressed by the code of "D&D", it still lingers in the mentality of the docks and will, most likely, be indicted through a new generation. This problem has a dual function as it not only exists in the space of the story but also in the real world beyond the fictional screen.
As a result Father Parry's sermon about "ways of fighting back" is doubted, compelling viewers to take the matter into their own hands, making them feel further ennobled by their concern. Although Terry may not have brought radical change on the docks his characterization has the potential to solve real life problems. Whilst the film does not provide a solution to the problem, it does plead for an explicit call to action against punitive injustice, highlighting the symbolic nature of Terry's persona as his greatest apparatus to bring change.
As a socially progressive film, On the Waterfront is pivotal in highlighting the ability of individuals to rise up against injustice. Through the use of a large range of cinematographic elements, the code "D&D" it revealed as the ultimate oppressive force, lingering in the mindset of all those affected long after an apparent fix has been provided. Using Terry as a vehicle for his message, Kane uses the conclusion to prompt real life change thus revealing the ability of an individual to inspire change.