On the Waterfront

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‘The ending of On the Waterfront is highly ambiguous, but ultimately the film offers little hope for the future of this community.’ Do you agree?

Although critics universally regarded “On the Waterfront” directed by Elia Kazan as a masterpiece reflecting issues central to the 1950s, when the film came out, a few critics were less sure about it. The film ends with a final confrontation between its main characters, its usual waterfront fights and a broken body but this ending is extremely vague, unclear and indistinctive. As a result, the film fails to solve the issue that this type of struggling workers – the Dockers who lead a tough life. This group of people live mostly without much hope for the future because their working condition are poor and low and are exploited by their master/mob who are they superiors. These men get the best benefits through bribery and corruption and these benefits are not passed on to the lower workers, thereby giving these men no hope for the future. The extremely uncertain view of the film ending discredits the issues the film portrays – corruption on the docks with the themes of individual conscious, group loyalty and personal honour. The uncertain world on the waterfront remains uncertain even at the end. Terry Malloy’s blurred vision, as the camera changes from third person to first, is a reminder that the way forward to the workers is far from clear. Frustrated by other men growing rich and fat through hard work of simple Dockers, Terry agrees to testify to the Waterfront Crime Commission about power and corruption and the restrictive and illegal practises taking place on the wharves. Terry’s choice whether to testify or stick to his claim that “I don’t know nothing” is a representation of the film’s larger concern. This shows the very thing and highly ambiguous line between personal and collective responsibility. Terry’s ultimate choice makes greater good for his community so that no more men will find themselves...
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