Explaining the end of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, the theme of moral ambiguity, how endings inform the story, and whether or not Mildred kills the soldier

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  1. Well written … moral ambiguity … yes indeed

    • Thank you, Rich!

      • Excellent summary and description. Good job! Opened my eyes

      • Chris, I never and I mean this never read these kind of comments or reviews on movies explained ect


        1) after literally just watching the movie and enjoying how different and unique it was I did a random google.

        2) with no comparison which is hardly a comment of praise I really enjoyed and appreciated your theory and thoughts as outlined in your feedback to the Movie your comments were really thought provoking and actually added to my thoughts on the movie as a whole resulting in me enjoying your theory just as much.

        Again Chris excellent review and well done.

        Mark Brian

        From New Zealand.

        • Thank you, Mark! Appreciate the kind words. That kind of add-on to the movie experience is what we’re looking to provide. How did you feel about the movie, overall?

  2. Actually, Angela died 9 months ago (7 months + 2 months the billboards has been put on the place), which makes this story get more suitable.

    • That would make the story get more suitable! It’s been a year now since I’ve seen the movie. I should re-watch and come back to this. Thank you!

      • Just watched the movie. Your review was excellent and helped me appreciate the movie even more and to all it’s depths. Thank you.

    • It was said that the police have done nothing for seven months. I assume the investigation has been stalled seven months and it is untold how long the police worked on the case prior.

  3. Interesting. My take on the whole movie was that it was about learning to let go of hate and anger over things you cannot change, before they destroy you as well. Dixon was given this message in Willoughby’s letter and Mildred was given it via Penelope’s bookmark. I assumed that they did *not* kill the rapist at the end, because they were both learning that they had to stop letting anger and revenge drive their life.

    • I agree James. Like you, I thought the takeaway message for me was hate begets hate whatever the subject. People become consumed with negative and destructive emotions and lose all common sense.

      Racism was an underlying theme in this movie and there is no logical or rational reason for racism – it is just hating other people for no other reason than they don’t look like you.

  4. Thank you. This helped me clarify and see things in a new way about the movie. Keep up the good work.

    • What’s the point of writing about moral ambiguity of every character? Usually every character is morally ambiguous..you can’t interpret the new police chief words
      .may b that’s the way he talks..in negations…

  5. Your review is why I despite the expectations Hollywood has given us of characters being simply either good or bad. Human beings are not that simple. It’s why I prefer independent cinema, where characters are complex, and bad guys do good things, and good women do bad things. Life is much more complex than your wish for moral simplicity will allow. I loved Three Billboards for its splendid performances, and for the complexity of its characters. Time to grow up and enter the adult world, if you want to be taken seriously as a film critic.

  6. I thought Mildred said that it had been 7 months since she heard from the police, not 7 months since Angela was killed?
    Which would indicate that it had been at least a year, as they would spend a couple of months on a murder case, surely.

  7. Thx for all the discussion. Just finished watching it last night and I thought I heard Mildred say in the car as they were driving:
    “Well he paid for them”. Referring to Willoughby! Did I hear wrong?

  8. Is there part 2 story…

  9. The hate begets hate is definitely part of the movie. However, when Mildred walked over to the dinner table with Charlie and Penelope she had hate in her heart and evil intentions, but Penelope’s innocence and even Charlie’s reticence for confrontation eased Mildred’s hate. Another was with Robbie and Dixon, where Robbie had every right to not forgive Dixon and to continue the hate, but instead accepted Dixon’s forgiveness by offering the orange juice.

    Had been thinking about the duality of the character personalities for awhile, but couldn’t put it together… so thank you Chris…. was killing my brain cells on this one. Your moral ambiguity clarification actually offers a clear conclusion that the soldier raped Angela and was likely killed by Mildred and Dixon. Of course, we’ll never know for sure. 🙂

  10. I hate reading articles from people who think they’re smarter than they are. Did you look up the word ambiguous and think that you could show everyone how smart you are?
    Huge waste of time, I hope you have another way to earn money.

    • MrRight…let go of the hate. Makes you look/sound like an idiot.

    • If you hate reading such articles, don’t read them, but don’t bash the author for providing a thoughtful analysis.

  11. Name a movie that does not make characters moraly ambiguous at some level. Just a few. I mean you are describing some things that are not enlightling (yes my English sucks sorry)

    • You are kidding right? A lot of superheroes are morally perfection, by western standards.

      Of course, there is no absolute moral perfection because morality is relative to culture. But that’s another matter.

  12. Great commentary and ideas.

    • Thanks Jen!

  13. The guy from Idaho is the killer. Why the hell would he go into a store and harass Mildred that way, as well as, be in a bar bragging about it… which Dixon was as positive as well as Mildred that he was the guy… and don’t forget Willoughby’s saying that the only clues they had were from someone in jail blabing or some asshole out at a bar blabbing.

    In my opinion, the Redneck Dixon brought his gun to finish it… as well as put his badge on the desk.

    For the two of them who hated each other the whole movie to be the ones who were 100% convinced that that was their guy, then I think we can conclude that they went there and took care of business.

    Kind regards,

    • Tom, I’ve seen it twice & was still having hard time till I read your thoughts!! I now believe you are correct… they kill him & he is guilty.
      Prior to your comment, I figured anger dissipated & they did not.

    • Yes, I thought so too.. Also, why does Abercrombie praise Dixon for scratching some guys face off in order to get his DNA (you did real good!) if Dixon is no longer an officer there and there was no DNA match? Makes no sense. Then Abercrombie says the guy is a clean and a veteran… so why would it be good to scratch is face off in a bar?! My theory is Abercrombie is covering as well and Dixon gives up because he knows that so he and Mildred go for vigilante justice.

      • Right? That was pretty conflicting.

  14. I really liked your explanations. Also, as you say, the main words are definitely “moral ambiguity”. Thank you!

  15. Great article. Never thought of that!

  16. Hi Chris, i was thinking almost the same thing after I finished watching the movie.. greetings from Croatia

  17. Hi Chris,

    I disagree– I don’t think they killed the guy. I’ve seen the movie three times because it’s so freaking good and well-acted. Easily my favorite script of that year, for many of the reasons you point out.

    One of the main things great movies do is show character growth. That’s how we get to know them and at the end root for them (for most films). At the end of Three Billboards we’re rooting for Mildred and Dixon for what they’ve been through as individuals and now together. We’re not rooting for them as Angels of Vengeance, we’re rooting for them as Human Beings.

    If they were going to kill the guy the movie would have ended on a stronger note– a smirk to the audience. “Yeah, of COURSE we are.” Because of the very ambiguity you discuss, they are weaker in the final scene than they were in the final third of the film. The anger is mostly spent, they have a long drive for the anger to continue to cool, and they are going to talk like humans to each other while driving. One or the other (or both) will have lost the desire to continue the cycle of violence. It will fizzle out, they’ll turn around and go home, and they will be better people for their overall experiences.

    Thank you.

    • Loved Chirs’s review and I love your take on the ending even more!

  18. I don’t know if I remember correctly but I think Dixon noted down number plate of “could be victim’s friend” who was in the bar and that is why DNA didn’t match. Just help me out because it’s bugging me.

    • It’s not really got anything to do with the number plate at that part.

      Whether they have a name or not. Suspect A can still be tested to dna found on body. So they may not have the right name but the dna would be a match.

      Also. It is the actual guys car. Dixon says he got the guys number plate. Not his friends. 🙂

  19. Wow! It answered pretty much every question I had about the movie. Thanks

  20. Very interesting ideas. I love the part about Lion King, so true! Thanks for writing, i thoroughly enjoyed reading it …i too like to think when they got there and she saw it was him they took him out!

  21. The big question is, will she get the $7 he owes her before she kills him?

  22. I just watched the movie, was left in a pondering mood and found your comments gave me more things on which to ponder and come to my own conclusions. So I thank you for that. I do enjoy a film that makes you think ?

  23. Excellent analysis. Moral ambiguity throughout and we’re suddenly supposed to accept that Abercrombie is a hero? No way. The scumbag from Idaho is our man.

  24. I just watched the movie and I agree with you. Mildred doesn’t know at the end of the movie that it’s the same guy who threatened her. I believe she takes one look at him and that’s it. Thank you for a great commentary.
    I enjoyed the movie, I like characters and storylines that make you think but I am not so much a fan of the viewer decide ending. But that’s just me.

  25. Abercrombie watched a known racist piece of shit police officer throw a man out of the window and all he did was fire him? That’s moral ambiguity right there. Lenient punishment because the guy is a cop vs. carrying out the law he is paid to protect.

  26. Thank you. Loved reading this after watching the movie.
    Some interesting takes in the comments too, love the moral ambiguity that comes with the ending; by letting go of anger they are allowing a rapist to live freely or by killing another human they’re ridding the world of a rapist.
    & there’s still a question mark over his innocence…

    Great movie!

  27. This is great. The only thing I don’t agree with is the fact Angela was killed seven months ago and he got back into the country nine months ago.

    By the time Dixon is in the hospital another month or so has already passed. Making the murder eight months ago.

    By the time he gets out and then I’m guessing is well enough to go to the bar. It is then nine months ago.

    Also I’m sure there is a reference at some point (I sure where. I think it’s when Dixon is talking to Mildred at the Swings) that the murder was ten months ago. I remember clocking that as I thought it was seven then realised he had to have time healing from his wounds.

    Sorry for the correction. I just get really annoyed when something is wrong. Maybe I’m wrong and you could explain. 🙂

  28. It ends in such an ambiguous manner because now the movie is ‘saying’ to the audience ‘now you decide’. To reach a conclusion of our own about whether they will murder the man from Idaho we are forced to weigh up everything that has gone before.

  29. Did Ma Dixon die? Was that a rat on her lap?
    So many red herrings but brilliant.

    • A tortoise

  30. To me, the ending has more to do with closure…or lack of closure in this case. Mildred spends the entire movie looking for closure and never gets it. Sometimes we don’t get closure, and this ending shows that by not providing closure for the audience. By not providing closure, the viewer is put in Mildred’s place.

  31. Sorry to resurrect this but only just seen this as it is out on Prime.

    I figured that the Idaho man was actually the killer and Abercrombie confirms this when he says ‘all you need to know is that he didn’t do nothing to Angela Hayes’. A double negative. Surely a script writer would be aware of that and any ad-lib from the actor on this key scene would not really work.

    Your article bridged the gap for me as to why he said this to Dixon (The scene before also highlights that Dixon isn’t a fantastic speaker of English so the grammatical error is probably lost on him).

    All morally bankrupt: hope they gave Idaho man a good kicking before they off’ed him.

    • Well noticed – ‘the double negative’ interesting, definitely strengthens the idea that mr Idaho is the man but untouchable federally. I would rather they got /beat a statement out of him so he did go to prison instead of them ending up in prison if they did kill him. The car journey had positive vibes for the future not their bleak futures in prison.

  32. Wow, what a brilliant investigation! Thanks for the review! It’s just what I’ve been looking for to find some explanation to that strange dialogue with Abercrombie! I kind of felt he was hiding something.

    • Happy to hear that! Thank you!

      • Great job Chris! A very much intellectually challenging notion. Your assessment with everyone’s comments has brought the pieces together!

  33. Thanks for the review/analysis it really helped to put things in perspective. A passage from the movie is nagging at my brain, didn’t Willoughby state in his letter to Mildred: « We couldn’t catch a break in this case, maybe in a few years the guy will confess or brag about the deed and that’s how we will be able to catch him ». I believe this is like a prophecy and fits into the plot with the Soldier from Idaho? It also fits in nicely since she was given the letter right after the soldier harassed her. Finally, aren’t Idaho and Missouri kind of far apart? It feels like a long way around just to show support for a local cop over some billboards, unless he was angrier about the message on the billboards…

    Any thoughts?

  34. After finishing the movie, I was totally let down…until I read your article 🙂 I was so fired up when Dixon seemingly would bring us closure by movie’s end, with the gathered DNA. When the new chief says it’s not the guy, I was so pissed. I didn’t know what to make of the abrupt ending until I read your breakdown. The complexity of literally every character is unreal. So many actions by the characters are obviously over the line, but the moral teetering by every character is something that I’ve never seen before in a film. It’s such an emotional roller-coaster, that I didn’t realize how brilliant the writing actually was, in having ALL the characters display moral ambiguity to varying degrees. Thanks for the fantastic explanation!

  35. This is the best review I’ve ever seen. On point. Magnificent!! Wow

    • Thanks, Amber!

  36. Great analysis! Just saw the movie and agree with almost everything, well except just firing Dixon wasn’t enough justice for what he had done, so no, don’t think the chief was any hero just because of firing him.

    Moreover, even if I can’t guess what “sandy” confidential country he meant the suspect was on when the crime happened, he was clearly protecting the criminal, also only saying he was innocent, saying there was no record on him whatsoever, yet not providing the actual evidence, e.g. a negative DNA report, a document showing no history on record, nothing like that, just saying he wasn’t the guy.

    Agreeing with another comment: the 9 month is not incriminating, time must have passed for Dixon to heal, so the number of months since the crime necessarily had to go up in between some of the scenes in the last half hour of the movie.

    I thought the movie was going to end with the car driving away next to the billboards and the music playing, just that. The final dialog in the car kind of surprised me a bit making me think: what still not finished? However it does bring closure in a way. Mildred admitted to Dixon that she had set the station on fire, and Dixon lightly answered who else could’ve been, confirming he had made peace with that. Then the fact that they say they are not sure about going through with their plan, but they can think about it on the way, does put the audience in their place, as someone commented. In any case, as soon as Mildred realizes it’s the same guy that threatened her at the shop, she will know. Great movie. Voted 9/10 for it on IMDB.

    • Hey hey! Yeah, just firing isn’t all the heroic haha. Very much falls under “the least you could do”.

      Appreciate you sharing your thoughts!

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