The True Heroes of "On the Waterfront"
February 25, 2014 at 4:53 am #251Michael AugelloParticipant
Each film we have watched in this course presents a hero. In the cases of the first four films of this course, the hero has without a doubt been the protagonist. Terry Malloy, the protagonist of On the Waterfront (1954) is certainly a hero, but not necessarily the hero. Without the heroic acts of Edie Doyle and Father Barry that opened Terry’s eyes up to the wrongness and the corruption of Johnny Friendly, Terry could not have been a hero himself.
It is pretty evident from the start of the movie, that the star, Marlon Brando, who plays an ex-prize fighter, will eventually come to his wits and overtake Johnny Friendly and his goons. What is not so evident are the two characters who aid him in doing so, and this makes their heroism all the more impressive. The first is Father Barry, a priest, who has no business taking down a mob. He is the one that attempts to mobilize the “Dumb and Deaf” workers, at first privately, and then in front of Johnny Friendly himself. If it wasn’t plain enough, Father Barry is not a run of the mill priest: he smokes, drinks, and has a pretty mean hook. Similar to the priest, Edie, for all intensive purposes, should not be poking around and trying to find answers involving a mob murder. A young woman, who studies at a women’s school in the country, has more courage than all of the workers put together. Even so, she stays and tries to find out more about her brother’s death.
Terry is a product of his upbringing – all he knows is what he has seen from his brother, who learns from Johnny Friendly. That being said, it is very hard to believe that Terry is naïve enough to believe that murder is not something Johnny Friendly is capable of…perhaps he fought in one too many fights and his head just isn’t quite right. Terry only realizes what he is a part of when Edie, who is “the only good thing that ever happened to [him],” came into his life. A turning point for Terry is the moment when he has interactions with the two unlikely heroes. He begs Father Barry for advice, then follows it and confesses his role in the murder of Edie’s brother to Edie. In easily one of the best scenes in the film, Edie and Terry are in the train yard while Terry is confessing. The train horns are going off, and the viewer can’t hear anything being said, but knows exactly what is being revealed by the extreme close ups of the sheer terror on Edie’s face. Terry can see that what he has done and what he is a part of is awful, and because of it, he is going to lose the woman he loves. Father Barry and Edie inadvertently work together to help Terry come to this realization.
Sure, Terry Malloy testifies and takes down Johnny Friendly and his crew, but without the edgy priest and the courageous young woman, the prizefighter would still be on the side of the villains.
Kazan, Elia, dir. On the Waterfront. 1954. Film. 23 Feb 2014.
February 25, 2014 at 5:47 pm #254Cortney LinneckeParticipant
- This topic was modified 9 years, 9 months ago by Michael Augello.
I thought it was interesting how much of a presence religion had in this film, particularly because that is not a topic I expect to see pop up in a mob movie. The most obviously religious presence is Father Barry, who encourages the men to stand up to the mob and gives a speech talking about crucifixions: “Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary… and anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if he was dead.”
With this speech in mind, I think parallels can be drawn throughout the film between biblical passages about the passion of Christ and On the Waterfront‘s plot with Terry. Both contain instances of betrayal (followed by regret): Judas selling out Jesus to the Romans, Charlie selling out Terry to the mob. Both have heroes standing alone in martyrdom, thrown under the bus by their own “people”: Jesus and the Jews, Terry and fellow victims of the mob. A final parallel emerges in the last scene of On the Waterfront: Terry walking along the docks as his “people” watch on, falling and beaten up, is strikingly similar to the biblical passage in which Jesus carries the cross toward Calvary and his crucifixion, falling and beaten up as his “people” watch on.February 25, 2014 at 9:06 pm #255Megan MeadowsParticipant
I agree with you Cortney, and in a way Michael as well. While Terry is the hero of the movie, it is not without the help of others who want the best for him, not any type of praise. Another parallel that can be drawn between religious texts and the film is that the help Terry was given was not recognized. Just as those who helped Jesus walk with the cross on his back didn’t want recognition, they were true heroes for their kind actions of helping someone who was down or needed to make an important decision. Father Doyle and Edie helped make Terry who he was and fight for what he needed to. If they had not urged him to testify, who knows if he would have done the right thing? While heroes are not always perfect, the help he got was so strong and about such a grave matter. It is only after this assistance that Terry stands up for what he believes in and states that he is proud of what he did.
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