On the Waterfront (1954) is a classic film directed by Elia Kazan. On the waterfront film is partly a drama and partly a gangster film. This classic but controversial film deals with the problems of racketeering, trade unionism and corruption. The New York's Waterfront dock workers are oppressed giving a setting for this film. Under the control of the oppressive bosses, the dock workers struggle to make ends meet and retain their dignity in work. The labor unions are run by mobs forcing the workers to submit to their cruel and oppressive bosses. This film has brought out the ills of society to the fore front (Schulberg, 1988).
In this movie directed by Elia Kazan, Terry Malloy, an employer of Jonny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who rules oppressively tries in his moral ways whether to turn down the mob. Eventually he turns down the mob. He is under investigation by the law officials because he suspected of committing various murders. He is lured to set Joey on the roof top where he falls from rooftop. He pretends that Joey Pigeon has joined his coop then says
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Terry...One of your pigeon has joined my coop.
Please come for it. It is at the roof top.
When Joey tries to go for the pigeon, Terry flies the pigeon and Joey gets held up by Johnny's goons at the roof top who eventually kill him.
The crowds surround Joey's body together with her terrified sister and Father Barry. This disturbs Terry's conscience and even brings crises of faith to him. It is worsened when Father Barry (Karl Malden) tells him another version of story that Joey was killed to protect Jonny's interest. Father Barry tries to question Terry about the death of Joey but Terry does not speak anything about it (Pg. 128). Joey's sister, Edie is concerned to reveal the killers of his brother. She seeks witnesses to reveal whether Joey was killed by Johnny. In the mix, Edie and Terry fall for each other and terry fells responsible for Joey's death. Father Barry and another work are punished for wanting to air out their views about the Joey's death. Terry is willing to tell the truth to Edie and cops. This makes him to be hated not only by the oppressive boss but also other workers who want to work despite the ills and oppressive bosses (Schulberg, 1988).
Eddie is a representative of an ideal youth who views the city as one full of evils. Jonny Friendly is power hungry and tries all the ways possible to maintain power and acts against anyone who tries to challenge him. He describes his youth as tough and need to fight for every hindrance in the streets. He is motivated largely by money and power. Terry is a protagonist and a dubious hero in this movie. He wants to challenge and fight Johnny an act that is unheard off by testifying against his killing. Friendly declares that Terry will never be employ in the Waterfront. Edie persuades Terry to leave the place together with her but Terry being strong hearted, he chooses to stay behind. He even presents himself in the day of recruitment in the waterfront (Hughes, 1955).
Eddie remains the only workmate who is not recruited. Other workers in unison refused to work unless Terry is working. Terry remains a heroic mob informer. Event tumbles and Terry is forced to go against his brothers will by testifying against the boss. He clearly saw the Johnny's goons who killed Joey. The dockworkers have taken everything he thought he wanted to fight for but he has to listen to his conscience (Pg. 124). Father Barry represents a helpless center where workers can't run for solace. As much as he organizes the workers in his church, the returns are violence and silence. Everybody is aware of the ills in the society but little or nothing is done to control that. Human greed and lust for power is largely portrayed in this film. Terry is not ready to see the ills in the society and just keep quiet as the rule remain that you keep quiet at all cost. Through Father Barry confession is evident. Terry's testifying against his group is kind of redemption from the ills of the society's .The good of the dockworker is revealed through Terry's confession. His brother Charley is on public display. As much as he wants terry to defend his friend and boss Johnny, Terry defies that. As much as he is concerned about Terry welfare, Charley doesn't consider his personal interest (Schulberg, 1988).
On the Waterfront introduces a series of social ills on the society. The docks is headed by corrupt labor union which decides who will work on it or not. Any worker who tries to blow a whistle about their corrupt nature is terminated. The public is left in fear .this makes only a few get rich (Hughes, pg. 20). The society is characterized by injustice. Even in the dialogue of Edie and Terry shows it out
Edie...City life is indeed cruel; even the bird's lack peace. People stays like hawks
Terry...But the birds is faithful to each other not like the humans in the city
Edie...but they lack peace.
The community ills are saved by a common man through his conscience (Mollay).He is a hero and tries to be brutal and tries to struggle with the cruel boss of the dock workers. He runs errands and is controlled by the union boss. His conscience haunts his actions and he makes a choice to join forces including the Father and sister Joey to challenge the mob. He acts as a whistle blower of the corrupt acts of the group.
In this Movie there are literary elements, point of view, symbolism and themes. It uses third person's point of view. Though the film assumes third persons point of view, Terry's emotions were clearly shown and this turns him to be a hero of the movie. The images and symbols are the pigeons, workers tickets. The pigeons symbolize how polite terry is while the Ticket for the workers show the power vested on them. The director of this movie wanted to stir the Americans apathy. People are tired of the injustices of the world and wish for a perfect life. Kazan knows that the evils of the society have not really come to an end but there is need to keep the battle to fight against the ills. He says that to redeem our souls from evils, we need not to be part of the monster evils, but battle with it. Later on Terry challenges Jonny Friendly and now he is not powerful as he thought and none of his cruelty maneuvers work for him (Schulberg, 1988).
The death of terry's friend is can be identified as a symbol of conception of his heroic lifestyle. In addition, this can be seen as a catalyst for Terry's transformation from an underground evil machine to the war activists of the monster that he once belonged to. In addition, it is worth noting that just like the man who was pushed from the top of the building to meet his death at the ground, terry's heroic deeds are tested when he is pushed from the numbness of his indifferent character into a new life which entails fighting against the power starved monster. Nevertheless, as seen from terry's passage from death to new life is in the back seat of his brother's car, one can note that the movie's director is making an effort of exposing the social injustices and evils that existed in America. The traces of heroism here are depicted in the sense that those people who survive better are those who stir trouble and get out of it without getting hurt or with fingers pointed on them.
Courage is evident at the scene where terry is seen to confront his brother as they are riding in his car and he aggressively asks his brother to reveal the secret behind the evil plan that was underway. Later, one can note that the brother was part of the conspiracy to threaten and destroy terry in return of endless favors from the monster. Terry says, 'I could have been somebody, I could have been a contender, I'm not a bum!' pg. 27. One can note that the motivation behind the actor's courage and heroic deeds was due to the childhood dream that he had of becoming a prize fighter. From the scenes, one can see the fight that terry was willing to fight at the madison square though his brother was actually against it and insisted on restraint. Afterwards, terry realized that the idea to quit contention was not his but influenced by an outside opinion, and as a result, the actor decides to make his own decisions out of free will thus becoming a prize fighter in a way.
At the end of the movie, the viewer can conclude that the waterfront community is characterised by social constrains and oppressions of the people as a result of poor leadership by the Johnny Friendly, local union boss and his gang of lackeys, who are seen to control everything that comes into and gets out of the port. As a result of this suffering, terry decides to gather courage and fight for the suppressed souls in his community. Thus it is worth concluding that all the fighting that takes place is based on a noble cause which entails seeking justice especially the dock workers who are burdened by lust of power, extortion and the evil darkness of the gangland.