Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is an award-winning movie. It won numerous awards including Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell. I’m a little slow to this party since I just watched it last night. I watch movies as my son, screenwriter/movie aficionado, purchases them. The film is about Mildred (McDormand) who buys billboard ads on three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. The message on the billboards is directed to the chief of police about the investigation into her daughter’s murder. A simple premise but the movie is one that gets stuck in your head. I’ve thought about it a lot since watching it last night. While there is a lot to think about – suicide, adultery, mother/daughter relationships, family dysfunction, racism, police brutality, revenge, hate. I was most struck by the message of grace and love seen in the characters of Dixon and Mildred. (If you’ve seen the movie, this might seem a little strange, so let me explain.)
(Disclaimer: This movie is full of bad language and adult themes. This isn’t my endorsement of this movie. It is my reflection of the movie as it made me think about my own faith and how I choose to live my life. Spoiler alert!!)
There is little to love about the character of Dixon. He’s a dirty cop with anger issues. He’s allegedly tortured a black man, threatens anyone who attacks the chief of police and threw a man out of a window. He lives with his mother and is obviously missing a few crayons in his box. At one point in the movie, he receives a letter from Willoughby, the chief of police. In the letter, Willoughby tells Dixon that he could make a good detective if he had only one thing, love. While it’s good advice, it seems like it will be wasted on an evil character like Dixon. From this point on, Dixon has a choice when it comes to those around him, love them or continue in his old ways.
Mildred is the main character in the story. She is looking for justice for her daughter who was brutally murdered. She is the one who put up the billboards. A divorced mother of two, she has lived through betrayal, adultery and the loss of a child. It would be easy to excuse her bitterness, her life hasn’t been easy. She is given advice from an unlikely source in the movie, the young woman her ex-husband left her for. The woman is young and not bright but through the ex-husband tells Mildred that “Anger begets anger.” From the mouth of babes, you might say. From this point on in the movie, Mildred has the choice to make whether she will continue the anger which leads to more anger or if she will show grace.
Fast forward to the end of the movie (major spoiler alert!!!), Mildred and Dixon are in the car heading to Idaho. There is a shot gun in the back seat and the address of the man thought to have committed a crime against a young women in their hands. They both know what they mean to do when they find him. The movie ends with the two discussing what lies ahead,
Mildred Hayes: Dixon?
Mildred Hayes: Are you sure about this?
Dixon: ‘Bout killing this guy? Not really. You?
Mildred Hayes: Not really. I guess we can decide along the way.
Some might have been disappointed with the ending, I thought it was perfect. We don’t know what Mildred and Dixon decided to do. But because the movie fades to black soon after these words are spoken, there is hope. I didn’t want to see more vengeance and hatred, the movie is full of that kind of ugliness. Nor did I really want to see it wrapped up in warm fuzzies, sweetness, and puppies. How realistic would that be? However, because it didn’t answer either of those questions, the movie ended with hope, hope that love and grace can win.
The same choice that Mildred and Dixon had at the end of the movie is also our choice every day. Will we choose love and grace? Or will we choose anger and hate? No matter the circumstances, the ugliness, or the pain, we can decide whether we will show love and grace or beget more anger and hatred. As followers of Christ, we are called to love others and forgive as we have been forgiven. The choice is ours. And that will always remain the hope for each new day.
So what do you think, what did Mildred and Dixon choose? What will you choose today?