On the Waterfront

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‘The director uses a range of cinematic devices to reveal the emotional and moral struggle in On the Waterfront.’ Discuss.

The story reflecting the physical struggles of several characters in 1950s Wharfside America, Kazan’s On The Waterfront immerses the reader in a background rich with historical context and black and white setting that accentuates the corruption and debauchery within the Waterfront (New Jersey) dockside community. The expertise of Kazan’s characterization and cinematography of Terry Malloy and Charley Malloy depicts their journey of self-discovery as more than just a search for identity; but a complex and interior struggle for emotional and moral understanding and awareness.

Kazan establishes a black and white film to explore the interior conflict of morality and emotional struggles that is embedded within the community of long shore men. The evocative scene of Joey Doyle’s death and the close up shot of Edie Doyle conjures an air of melancholy and pity to the tragic end of human life. However, what is most significantly established is the placement in the shades of the light and dark. The scene is at night. Edie Doyle, beamed bright and white, is contrasted by the long shore men near the blackened walls who are enveloped and wrapped by darkness; alluding to long shore men’s emotional resignation and their subconscious surrender to the conventional “Deaf and Dumb,” and by extension, corruptive institution of “Johnny Friendly.” Equally, Edie Doyle, immersed in light however surrounded by darkness, suggests her emotional struggle for the moral truth and the consequent hardship that she must face in a society so embedded in corruption and greedy.

Kazan’s characterization of Terry Malloy in a manner of low-self esteem of “hands within pockets” to an eventual confident and stout posture and deportment depicts his emotional and moral journey. Indeed, it is exemplified right after the significant murder of Joey Doyle; the audience is lead to...
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