A Reflection of On The Waterfront – A Spiritual Awakening?

Although Terry complains that he “coulda been somebody”, he finally does become somebody worthy of admiration.

Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront 1954. Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint.

“If I spill, my life ain’t worth a nickel”. Terry Malloy retorts back to Father Barry in a key scene agonising over what to do, his knowledge and unwitting involvement in the ruthless murder of a co-waterside worker – Joey Doyle. Does he inform to the authorities or does he remain ‘D & D’ – ‘deaf and dumb’?

The Film On the Waterfront’s protagonist, Terry is linked to the Underworld Gang of Unionists by Association, but not as an ‘Inner Member’. His memory of the past is haunted by ‘What might have been scenarios of an outcome had his conniving older brother Charlie, and the shady union boss – Johnny Friendly not interfered with his ‘Sure Winning Outcome’ of a career-defining boxing match.

Terry’s conscience of his unlawful predicament goes from woe to woe after meeting Edie, the murdered (almost by his own hand) Joey Doyle’s sister with whom he rapidly develops a strong affection for.

The Visually Surreal Moments of Terry’s inner journey of transformation: The symbolic speaking to the Snow White Innocence of Edie at the unfriendly and foreboding fence/barrier, speaking from one side to the other through the cold iron spears. From good to evil, from evil to good. The trying on, without success, of Edie’s nice warm little glove – we see the world where he comes from and the unattainable world of his desire.

A hard to ignore Metaphor is when Edie hands Terry her brother’s jacket, “Yours is coming apart”. Possibly saying this shows that Terry Malloy’s world is falling apart.

Our guilt ridden hero faces a number of issues as we follow him along his journey of self-realisation. One of these issues being self-esteem as us the film audience play ‘Fly on the wall’ in the famous cab ride scene – “You don’t understand, I coulda had class. I coulda been a Contender. I coulda Been Somebody… ”

Another powerful Metaphor – Terry has travelled full circle since the ‘Dive Years’ earlier in the boxing ring. All bloodied and bruised. Terry is transformed into a vision of ‘Christ on the Waterfront’ as he is helped to his unsteady feet by the tender exonerating woman in his life – Edie and the church’s ever-faithful agent – Father Barry. An extremely poignant ‘Redemption Scene’. He must take those incredibly painful steps on his own now if he is to win this last round against the ruthless Johnny Friendly, and more importantly, to see his fellow Waterside Workers successfully crush the unlawful oppression by following him into the Gates of Freedom – so to speak.

What makes this story truly interesting and one which will be a long time discussed, is the question of Terry’s climactic motive: Has Terry Malloy turned into a selfless hero driven by the needs of the hundreds of fellow oppressed longshoremen or has he simply become vengeful, – Avenging his brother’s murder?

However exulting the overall wind up the film ascends to, Terry has transfigured himself from Bum, “I Coulda Been A Contender… “, Snivelling has-been type without smarts’, into ‘Heroic Liberator’ for the Fellow Everyman.

Source by Ash D Solomon

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