On the Waterfront Insight Essay Example
On the Waterfront Insight Essay Example

On the Waterfront Insight Essay Example

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  • Pages: 15 (3939 words)
  • Published: May 16, 2018
  • Type: Film Review
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On the Waterfront is a renowned Hollywood film, achieving eight Academy awards in 1954. Marlon Brando’s exceptional portrayal of Terry, a humble dockworker who confronts the corrupt bosses of the waterfront, stands as an outstanding performance in the history of cinema. The movie delves into the conflict between one's morals and personal gain, along with contemplating the notion of loyalty. Eva Marie Saint stars as Edie, an untainted character whose affection motivates Terry to transform into a hero.

The film showcases the grim living conditions and dangerous surroundings of the characters in the tenements and docks through its black-and-white photography. In a brief synopsis, dockworker Joey Doyle is killed in revenge for providing evidence to the police against the corrupt waterfront Union. Terry Malone, an uneducated dockworker who was manipulated by the Union to bring Joey


to his death, feels uneasy and concerned about his involvement. Meanwhile, he develops feelings for Joey's sister, Edie. Alongside a local priest named Father Barry, Edie is determined to seek justice for Joey's killers.

Terry remains faithful to the Union and its long-standing tradition of staying silent to government efforts to reform it. However, his burgeoning affection for Edie gradually leads him to acknowledge that he is part of a corrupt system that oppresses the laborers. The code of silence holds immense power, as workers dread the Union's harsh retaliations, making it challenging for Father Barry to convince anyone to speak up. Despite Docker KO Dugan providing testimony, he is tragically killed.

Terry realizes that he should testify against Union boss Johnny Friendly after a revelation. His brother Charley, who works for Friendly, is instructed to discourage

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Terry but is killed when he helps Terry escape. Filled with anger and sorrow, Terry decides to seek revenge by killing Friendly, but Father Barry convinces him that a more powerful vengeance would be to dismantle Friendly's empire through testimony. After the investigation, Terry is isolated by the dockers and employers refuse to hire him. He confronts Friendly and is brutally beaten by Union thugs.

The dockers observe as opinion shifts in Terry's favor. Terry, supported by Father Barry and Edie, rises to his feet despite his injuries. Together with the dockworkers, he leads them to a new job, free from Union interference. Providing background and context, On the Waterfront was created in 1954 and is based on Malcolm Johnson's series of Pulitzer Prize-winning news articles, published in the New York Sun in 1949. These articles revealed the presence of murder, extortion, and intimidation tactics dominating the docks, which were under the control of the corrupt Longshoremen's Union.

The movie portrays a Congressional inquiry that aimed to sanitize the waterfront by gathering testimony from dockworkers, similar to the Underbelly series reflecting Australian crime syndicates today. This film became highly popular and reflected a facet of American life during that period. Elia Kazan, the director of the film, had personal motivations for sharing the story of a brave whistleblower who defied all odds to testify based on their conscience, risking their life and reputation.

Kazan, a former member of the Communist Party, testified in 1952 before the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Commission) against fellow members of the film industry, which resulted in widespread contempt and rejection. During this time, the US was gripped by an

atmosphere of fear and paranoia regarding communism, and the HUAC, under Senator Joseph McCarthy, was determined to expose any sympathizers, particularly within the arts community. It is widely believed that Kazan directed On the Waterfront to justify his actions and to portray himself as someone who defied public opinion and followed his conscience. The film is set and filmed in Hoboken, New Jersey, with many dockworkers serving as extras. The film utilizes the tenements, rooftops, and narrow streets of the area for both budgetary reasons and to achieve a sense of authenticity. The bustling dock activity is incorporated into the film to enhance its impact, as seen in the scene where Terry's desperate confession to Edie is drowned out by the blaring sound of a ship's horn.

On the Waterfront is a film that features characters based on real people, such as Terry, Johnny Friendly, and the crusading priest Father Barry. The film incorporates many realistic elements and takes a gritty and uncompromising approach to exposing the dark side of American society and politics. As a result, On the Waterfront achieved immediate critical and financial success, establishing acclaim for Kazan and enduring admiration for Brando. One of the film's most remarkable aspects is its cinematography, which effectively presents stark black-and-white moral dilemmas in an equally contrasting black-and-white film.

The characters in the film are surrounded by shadowy tenement buildings and laneways, creating a sense of confinement in their narrow lives. The presence of cranes and staircases adds to the feeling of danger that the characters may face. However, amidst this darkness, there is a contrasting rooftop that offers refuge to Terry. It is an expansive

space that is open to the sky. The film intertwines two simple narratives - a love story and Terry's journey towards redemption. The love story begins with Edie's visit to the docks to learn about Joey's death. Meanwhile, Terry's redemption begins when he is initially attracted to the beautiful and angry girl.

It requires Edie's moral fortitude to steer Terry away from his commitment to corruption, while the allure they feel towards each other is what compels Edie to break free from her upbringing in the convent. In the play On the Waterfront, the two primary characters embody archetypal roles in drama: the imperfect young man and the virtuous young woman who aids him in conquering his uncertainties and flaws to emerge as a hero. However, through their portrayals, Brando and Saint infuse these characters with authenticity and vitality.

The faces and gestures of the actors play a crucial role in conveying meaning in important scenes. For instance, Brando's actions of putting on a woollen glove while walking with Saint in the park both playfully teases her and demonstrates his fascination with her. Similarly, his subtle reaction of turning aside the gun Charley aims at him in the taxi speaks volumes about the deep bond between the brothers. Moreover, the confusion and misery depicted on his face as he converses with Saint in the pub expose the internal struggle of this character who struggles to express himself. While the film adopts a realistic style, Kazan incorporates symbolic elements.

The pigeons symbolize flight and freedom for Terry, as well as serving as a way for him to show his gentleness. The clothes worn by different characters

also represent something. The windbreaker passed from Joey to KO to Terry acts as a talisman, connecting its wearer to the struggle for justice. On the other hand, the luxurious overcoats worn by the Union bosses signify their wealth and confidence, while the workers' poverty is evident in their shabby jackets. The prize fight that Terry lost continues to bother him, and it foreshadows his future involvement with the Union, which presents even higher stakes and a new opportunity for him to make something of himself.

CHARACTERS & RELATIONSHIPS Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, perceives himself as a ‘bum’ and a loser, aimlessly drifting through life. He lacks education and is mocked by the Union men for being unintelligent. Johnny Friendly mocks him further by calling him 'Einstein'. Terry remains loyal to Friendly's mob, oblivious to their manipulative use of him. He continues to rely on Friendly's favor and protection due to their support during his difficult childhood. Brando portrays Terry in the film's early scenes as a mumbling and slouching man lacking confidence. In contrast to the hardened criminals he associates with, Terry possesses a gentle side. This is evident in his tender care for his pigeons and his compassion towards Edie, who is grieving. He shows his empathy by handing her the work token. It is not easy for Terry to accept Edie's compassionate perspective on life. His experiences have taught him to be ruthless before others can harm him. However, his attraction to Edie and his lingering guilt over her brother's death compel him to listen to her discussions on 'conscience' and moral responsibility.

Terry, a man skilled in physical action,

is hesitant and uncomfortable when asked to be a whistleblower. He grapples with the notion of betraying the code of loyalty among his colleagues, which has bestowed certain benefits upon him. However, after witnessing Charley's murder, Terry experiences a mixture of anger, the desire for vengeance, and a moral resolve to testify. Following the Inquiry, Terry undergoes a profound transformation, becoming a stronger and more optimistic version of himself. Asserting "I'm not a bum" to Edie, he signifies that acting upon his moral principles has given him a second chance to become the successful individual he once aspired to be.

In this scene, Brando embodies Terry with strength and authority. His voice is clear and his gaze direct, presenting a contrast to the apologetic and shambling man shown in the opening scenes. Through Terry's character, the film highlights the redemptive potential of love. Edie, portrayed by Eva Marie Saint in her debut film role, is depicted as an innocent with radiant and delicate beauty. In the film's uncompromising black-and-white moral structure, Edie is unequivocally aligned with the righteous.

Her father is appalled to witness her presence on the dock and the audience notes how misplaced the delicate girl seems amidst the men's physical confrontation. Nevertheless, Edie proves to be unexpectedly spirited as she joins the brawl, aggressively attacking and slapping Terry in her determined anger to obtain a work token for her father. Despite her tender nature and naivety, we witness Edie's ability to experience rage when confronted with injustice. Due to her parents' efforts, Edie has been shielded from the corrupt waterfront and has developed a Christian perspective of the world, emphasizing the importance

of collective care and compassion.

Despite the poverty and corruption surrounding her in Hoboken, Edie remains unwavering in her virtue and her devotion to family and justice. Terry captivates her with his fascinating ideas, which only adds to her attraction towards him. Edie's decision to remain in Hoboken and seek justice for Joey's murder keeps her grounded in the harsh reality outside the comfort of her studies with the nuns. It is during this time that Edie experiences her sexual awakening, as she falls deeply in love with Terry. Although initially hesitant and rejecting his ideas, she quickly turns to Terry for support when she is pushed by the wedding party. In no time, they find themselves dancing close to each other.

In her principles, Edie is strong and prepared to reject her feelings for Terry after he admits his involvement in Joey's death. She is honest when she says, 'I didn't say I didn't love you. I said, keep away from me.' Edie exemplifies the virtuous, strong woman, supporting her lover in becoming a morally responsible man. Father Barry, portrayed by Karl Malden, also contributes significantly to Terry's moral development. Similar to Edie, he is an outsider in the waterfront community and is appalled by the men's explanation of the corrupt system at play there.

The film presents him as almost naive when he asks, 'What about your Union?'. Father Barry makes a crucial decision early on in the film, prompted by Edie's contempt when he tells her he will be 'in the church if you need me'. This shames him into leaving the church and joining the fight for justice. Despite initially having

some protection from violence due to his position as a priest in the traditionally Irish Catholic community, Father Barry becomes a man of action, displaying his commitment from the beginning.

Despite the risk of the angry Union mob and the objects thrown at him, Father Barry fearlessly speaks out in the ship's hold after KO Dugan's death. He passionately advocates for human rights and dignity, shedding light on the moral dimensions of the situation and exposing the greed of the Union mob. Terry finds inspiration in Father Barry, who emphasizes the importance of truth over blind loyalty by telling him, 'What's ratting for them is telling the truth for you'. Along with Edie, Father Barry serves as the moral compass in the film. © Insight Publications 2009 6 Insight text article on On the Waterfront

In her relationships, she communicates the same values as Johnny Friendly, who expresses them in Christian, doctrinal terms. Johnny Friendly, portrayed by Lee J. Cobb, hardened by his impoverished early life, is committed to maintaining control and does not allow justice or the law to obstruct it. He takes pleasure in power and its luxuries, such as cigars and expensive clothing, as well as the fear and deference displayed by others. He is uncompromising and merciless, extorting money from Union members, punishing his associates when they disobey, and orchestrating the killing of informants.

Friendly displays both an affectionate and condescending attitude towards Terry. However, his underlying fear is being perceived as just another person, which would cause him to lose his power and status. Unfortunately for Friendly, this fear becomes reality following the inquiry. The concluding scene portrays

Friendly as insignificant and ineffective in the midst of a throng of men. This moment depicts his futile bluster. In terms of the film's moral framework, Friendly's merciless treatment of everyone he encounters portrays him as almost non-human. Charley, known as "the Gent," is characterized by Pops Doyle as a "butcher in a camelhair coat."

The disparity between his refined appearance and his criminal lifestyle is evident. Charley has utilized his intelligence to escape poverty, discarding any moral principles in the process. As Friendly's main financial supporter, he is both a trusted ally and an essential component of their corrupt activities. Unlike his brother, Charley places utmost importance on money, urging Terry to become more involved in the Union's illegal activities. The audience's response to Charley is ambiguous; although he is clearly deceitful and corrupt, he is also depicted as caring deeply for his brother. Even in the early parts of the film, Charley protects Terry by concealing his mistakes while handling money and advocating for him when Friendly's patience wears thin. Like his brother, Charley is torn between two strong loyalties: family and self-interest. The scene in the taxi underscores this dilemma for Charley. It is likely Terry's gentle reproach regarding the boxing match, "You shoulda looked out for me," that ultimately shames him into deciding to save his brother's life at the expense of his own.

Terry's disbelief at Charley bringing out the gun indicates their significant relationship. Terry delicately turns the gun away, seemingly embarrassed for Charley, unable to believe that his brother would harm him. The film's main themes, ideas, and values revolve around justice. It emphasizes the necessity for

justice in human affairs, depicting a traditional scenario where a powerful group with money and power oppresses and rules over a larger, intimidated group. The powerful group uses ruthless measures to maintain control.

Throughout history, storytellers have depicted an ageless and universal concern, which is the struggle for justice. In Kazan's film, this struggle takes place on the dangerous Hoboken docks. Here, corrupt Union officials have unjustly stolen the rights of the workers who elected them. Visually, the film showcases the injustice of this situation early on. The poorly dressed dock workers, trying to secure work tokens, are watched by elegant Union officials who callously laugh at their plight while standing in the cold.

The ending of the film highlights the fear Johnny Friendly experiences when faced with the possibility of going to jail, ultimately confirming the restoration of justice to the docks. This conclusion brings satisfaction to the story, and it is evident that the film sympathizes with the workers. Their physical appearance, characterized by narrow and pinched features as well as hunched shoulders, evokes compassion as they anxiously await Big Mac's selection for a day's work. The film portrays the emasculating effect of their dependence on the boss's representative.

The person known as the ‘juicehead’ in the park presents another perspective on the ruthlessness of the Union, as he expresses his dissatisfaction with being unfairly denied his compensation. Our sympathy is evoked as we witness his desperate state of resorting to begging. On the Waterfront adopts a distinctly black-and-white moral standpoint by clearly identifying its villains. This is evident in the early scene set in the Union hut, where the greed driving this

ruling group is unveiled. Johnny Friendly entices his men by throwing banknotes at them for counting, leading to a disorderly rush towards the table as they clumsily reach for the piles of money.

Friendly’s later claim that this money is obtained from the dockworkers in return for the opportunity to be employed creates a feeling of disdain for his greed and enhances understanding of the workers' predicament. On the Waterfront delves into the notion that corruption undermines fairness: the aspiration for authority and the yearning for justice are opposing principles in human society, constantly engaged in conflict. Johnny Friendly’s greed for power and wealth stems from his impoverished and humiliated upbringing, yet he displays no compassion for the workers he currently deprives of resources and dignity.

His determination and ruthlessness overpower the uneducated working men who simply desire a chance at a better life. In contrast, Pops Doyle's affection for his daughter and the immense effort he has exerted (resulting in one arm being two inches longer) to save money for her education highlight his selflessness. On the Waterfront supports the concept of redemption and the potential for personal development. It illustrates that within an atmosphere of intimidation, there is minimal motivation to oppose corruption.

When facing a boss who can disregard your requests for work, it is advisable to conform to the situation rather than putting your safety at risk. The men, feeling beaten down, are unable to challenge Johnny Friendly and his gang, leading them to accept the exploitation, poverty, and unfairness they experience. It requires a hero to confront those in power, as demonstrated by the bravery of Joey Doyle and KO

Dugan in their efforts to assist the police in cleaning up the waterfront.

Terry, who is reluctantly taking on the role of a hero, faces the risks posed by their murders. Initially, Terry may seem like an unlikely whistleblower since he is an insider in the Union and a protege of Friendly’s, which grants him preferential treatment on the docks. He is also not someone who typically contemplates the moral aspects of Union activities. It takes him some time to comprehend that the Union is responsible for Joey's murder, or it could be that he eventually realizes with resentment that he has been cynically exploited by the Union once again. In either scenario, Joey’s murder serves as a catalyst for Terry, compelling him to confront the truth about Johnny and Charley.

He feels compelled to admit his involvement in the murder to Father Barry and Edie due to his troubled conscience. However, this realization is gradual. Despite the efforts of Edie and Father Barry to persuade him to testify, it is not until his brother's death that he reaches the point where he is willing to provide evidence to the government inquiry and bring down Johnny Friendly. Terry becomes a hero, not for his boxing skills, but for being a defender of his community, overcoming the influence of corruption that previously controlled him. It takes assistance from others for Terry to comprehend the world in terms of moral decisions.

Terry's love for Edie motivates him to seek justice for Joey. Edie's kind-hearted nature helps him see a selfless perspective on life, and his desire to be worthy of her pushes him towards doing what is

moral. Father Barry also plays a role in Terry's ethical growth. The movie depicts the priest's surprise and sadness as an outsider when he witnesses the men's oppression. Following KO Dugan's death, Father Barry's strong Christian beliefs inspire him to deliver a powerful sermon on the dockworkers' suffering.

The text emphasizes the call to action for Terry and his listeners. It highlights how Terry is shown by two principled and compassionate individuals that there is a way of living beyond selfishness and greed. These individuals support Terry until the end, demonstrating that such a lifestyle is achievable. The article on "On the Waterfront" also discusses Charley's redemption. Charley's courageous decision to let Terry escape is motivated by both his love for his younger brother and his remorse for the negative impact his cynical greed had on Terry in relation to the boxing match.

The film challenges the importance of unwavering loyalty and examines its value in different relationships. Despite being treated with affection by Charley and Friendly, Terry's loyalty towards them is tested when he decides to testify against the Union. The film urges the viewer to support Terry's decision, emphasizing that the deaths of Joey and KO Dugan outweigh any loyalty he may owe to these individuals. The final act of sacrificing himself for Terry's sake earns the 'butcher in a camelhair coat' the viewer's respect.

The film suggests that loyalty has a relative moral value. Edie's loyalty to her brother and her determination to find his killers are portrayed as admirable. However, it is also shown that misplaced loyalty can be harmful when it is used to protect evil individuals. Breaking faith with

one's protectors is shown to come with a high cost. Terry has previously tested his loyalty to the Union. In order to allow Charley and Friendly to place bets against him, he gave up his one opportunity to compete in a boxing championship fight and become 'somebody'. The pain caused by throwing the fight is evident when he tells Charley, 'You should have taken care of me'.

The Union has exploited him to benefit themselves, disregarding his own interests. They have manipulated Terry to serve as a decoy to lure Joey Doyle to his demise, and now they expect him to remain silent when questioned by investigators. This proves to be overwhelming for the young man. Additionally, the film depicts the consequences of severing ties with former allies. Terry reaches his conclusion gradually and after deep introspection. It is noteworthy that, despite the insistence on loyalty from its members, the Union ultimately betrays him.

If Charley had not been killed for failing to persuade Terry not to testify, we would never know where Terry's loyalty would ultimately lie. Breaking the traditional code of silence is frowned upon by public opinion. After the hearing, Terry is scorned by the police who accompany him home. Initially, dockworkers shun him as a 'canary' because they remain fiercely loyal to the Union in order to survive in the harsh world of the waterfront. When Friendly summons Union heavyweights to beat him up, Terry endures a brutal thrashing.

Terry's loyalty to the group has provided him with security and a sense of belonging. However, going against the group and reconsidering that loyalty has resulted in pain for Terry. Nevertheless,

the film portrays Terry as a heroic figure of almost legendary proportion as he guides the dockers towards a new working agreement while facing various challenges.

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