Elia Kazan’s portrayal of good and evil in ‘On the Waterfront’ is more than it meets the eye. Good and Evil appear in seperate characters and also at different times on the same characters. More importantly, Elia Kazan gets an important message across; No character is truly evil. Good is symbolised in numerous ways throughought the film. The church is one such example of this. It represents the highest order of purity and goodness, yet it is always on the background of the film.
During Edie and Terry’s walk through the playground, the Church could be seen in the background, yet unlike other structures in the film such as the docks, the Church cannot be seen prominently, but rather it is mostly present in the background. Elia Kazan had perhaps used the Church to depict goodness as something present in all the characters, yet, much like the Church it is not always so prominent. Johnny Friendly is the primary antagonist ‘On the Waterfront’, however a question to be considered is that is he purely evil?
Friendly’s name is not as ironic as it seems. It is true he is wicked enough to order chilling homicides and remain unperturbed afterwards, however he has a affection towards his underlings. After Friendly observes Terry being deeply shaken by his role in Joey’s death, he hands Terry a note of cash as a “present from your uncle Johnny. ” This shows that Friendly has some level of compassion over his minions and appreciates their ‘good’ work. Despite some goodness inside him however, Friendly is still clearly a cold-blooded killer.
Johnny Friendly’s menacing figure represents dictatorship in “On the Waterfront”. With a whole community of thousands working for him, Friendly still finds the need to murder the minority who disobey him despite having “the fattest piers and the fattest harbour in the world. ” Although he has “two thousand deuce paying members: at his disposal, Friendly’s overpowering evil lusts for more dominance and this leads to the ultimate act of evil – the murders of multiple people. Although there is a flicker of goodness in him, Friendly remans a major source of evil in ‘On the Waterfront’.
To the observant viewer, the presence of good and evil may be clear to see, yet it is the struggle between good and evil influence that is the platform of the film. The protagonist Terry Malloy is the tragic hero is entrapped in a battle between good and evil forces. The pure hearted Father Barry ad Edie Doyle attempt to rescue Terry from his conscience which constantly torments him by urging him to speak out the truth while the mob on the other hand attempt to influence him by providing threats and intimidating him.
The mob goes so far as to murdering his brother in an attemt to break his spirit and also lure him to end his life too. In the end, the influence of good prevails and Terrt finally gives witness to the crimes of the mob. With his conscience cleared, Terry is now fianlly able to speak out against Friendly and the mob without loathing himself as he is no longer a “bum” in his own eyes. “On the Waterfront” is no film about Angels against Demons, but rather sheds light on the fact that good and evil are out there, yet is is upto us to allow either one to influence us.
Similar to Edie, an individual may allow good forces such as the desire to uncover truth to affect them or they may allow evil forces such as greed to manipulate them and cause them to carry out needless, henious acts like Johnny Friendly. As viewers witness through Terry’s actions, in the end, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are simply options. It is ultimately our choice to pick one to allow it to influence us. The choice is always ours to make.
Courtney from Study Moose
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