Dixon’s Redemption in Three Billboards

Martin McDonagh’s Golden Globe Best Picture winner Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri tells the story of a grieving, desperate, tough mother whose teenage daughter was raped while dying and subsequently set on fire (thankfully, none of which is shown in the film). The story takes place months after the tragedy, when Mildred (played by Frances McDormand) decides to address the lack of progress on her daughter’s case by renting out three billboards which stand on a fairly un-visited road just outside of Ebbing that bear the statements: “RAPED WHILE DYING,” “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?” and “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” Mildred has no trouble going through with the rental of the boards, but she is at the center of controversy after the boards are put up, being confronted by the local priest, her dentist, her abusive ex-husband, the local news station, and, of course, the police department. She interacts mainly with two police officers: Chief Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson), who is personable, understanding, loved, and respected, and a villainous Officer Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell), who eventually redeems himself by the end of the film. This redemption is what inspired me to write this week’s Spoiler Alert.

While Three Billboards addresses many topical issues like racism, sexism, police brutality, rape culture, mental health, prejudice, and justice, the one focus of the film that I found most interesting is forgiveness. The film showcases multiple emotionally-charged cases of apologies, but the most notable exchange of forgiveness is between the audience and Officer Dixon. Although he is painted as a modern day villain (ignorant, racist, childish, impulsive, abusive, and bigoted), he eventually comes around after reading an inspirational letter from a dead Chief Willoughby and subsequently escaping a burning building. He is transported to the hospital where he stays in the same room as a man he had assaulted and threw out of a window, but that man still forgives him. Later, viewers learn Officer Dixon was enamored with becoming a police officer but struggled immensely, having to revisit the academy multiple times. Eventually, Dixon decides to sacrifice his physical health in order to get a sample of a suspicious man’s skin in order to possibly propel forward the dormant Angela Hayes case (Mildred’s daughter’s death). Viewers are compelled to disdain Dixon for the entirety of the first two acts of the film, but by completely flipping Dixon’s motives and showcasing his struggle and inner thoughts, viewers grow sympathetic. No other character goes through as much of a change as Dixon does (with the exception of a significant character’s death), which directly correlates with how much about Dixon’s personal life and history the audience knows. Dixon’s character arc is achieved by strictly separating Dixon’s real emotions from his actions in the majority of the film and demonstrating a few significant events that change his mentality. Make note of Dixon’s fascinating storyline if/when you watch this film.

The film has a haunting atmosphere to it, with many scenes whose results are shrouded in mystery and tension which causes viewers to be on the edge of their seats. The comedy sprinkled throughout the events of the film is well-balanced and shocking. The interactions between characters are particularly interesting since each of them have such rich character traits. The breathtaking and beautiful cinematography engages the viewers and keeps their eyes glued to the screen. If you are able to go watch this film, definitely do so and make sure to bring some tissues. If you have already seen this film, let me know what you thought about it below and go watch it again! Watching the film explains the well deserved “Oscar-buzz” surrounding it and the reason why it is my personal pick for Best Picture.