On the Waterfront

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On the waterfront practise essay

Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, “On the Waterfront” tells the story of Terry Malloy’s battle between reason and will. At the film’s centre lie’s Terry’s choice between remaining “deaf and dumb” about the corruption lead by Johnny Friendly, or becoming a ‘stool’ pigeon and testifying against him. Terry’s ultimate decision to testify against Friendly demonstrates his transformation from being a “bum”, lost in his morality, to a hero and leader for himself and his fellow longshoremen. His choice to “rat” on Friendly is brought on by his newly awakened conscience, not anger. This conscience is a result of his developing love for Edie Doyle, and the pressing care of Father Barry. Together they push him towards making the morally correct decision. Terry’s anger in the film arises from the death of his brother Charlie, “one of [Friendly’s] own”. This however, it is not the reason he testifies, but rather a driving force. If Terry’s decision sparked from anger, he would have ignored Father Barry’s plea to “fight [Friendly] with the truth”, and sought revenge on Friendly. Instead, Terry’s conscience prevails and he listens to Father Barry.

From the beginning, Johnny Friendly proves to be worthy of standing up to. He is ruthless and unforgiving. Friendly grinds the union members for money, punishing his own associates when they step out of line and arranging the murder of “canaries”, at this degree, reason enough to testify. Friendly expects complete loyalty from his men and uses fear in order to maintain that authority. Friendly’s fear is that he will be seen as “just another fella” and lose the status and power he holds. It is clear from the beginning of the film that a special bond exists between Terry and Johnny Friendly. In many respects, Friendly is initially a father figure to Terry whose own father was “bumped off”. He is even reffered to as “Uncle Johnny” reinforcing the family bond that exists between the two. Friendly shows a...
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