On the Waterfront is a film where a young man has to struggle between conflicting choices in the harsh brutal waterfront days of the 1950s. Director Elia Kazan chose to shoot the film in black and white, to use as a contrast between the obvious right and wrong state of affairs on the waterfront. However obvious it is, the decisions Terry Malloy must make are not so easy. Sticking to the waterfront ideals of being "D and D" and self-preservation, Terry is seen as selfish, uncaring and also as someone with no brains, no honour; essentially "a bum." Throughout the film however, Terry evolves and changes, becoming a hero in the sense of doing what is right rather than having a bundle of cash and power over others.
Terry Malloy, understood how to survive in the waterfront world, "...it's about sticking with the right group of people..." just to get a bit of extra change in your pocket. This is exactly what he does. Johnny Friendly buys "a piece" of him back in his boxing days. In one of Terry’s prize fights, he has the opportunity to be a contender if he wins. However he is told by the mob who own a piece of him, "Kid, this ain't your night," and so he threw the fight, giving up his dignity, honour and integrity for the short-end money. Instead of becoming someone he could be proud of, he sold himself to the mob, making him just another of the mob's tools used to make money; a bum.
The union mob that Terry sides with also see him as a bum. This is shown when Terry is told counting bills will develop his mind and Big Mac sharply responds to this asking, "What mind?" Seen as dim-witted and not contemplative of anything, the mob use him as a goon and an errand boy, realising(or believing) he is not capable of much else. In an early scene of the film, Terry is given the job of getting Joey Doyle up to the roof of his building. He unknowingly set up Joey Doyle for the kill, and the mob, viewing him in low-esteem do not even bother to inform him of their plan to murder the fellow pigeon-lover. When Terry argues that he believes he should have been told, they respond dully, "maybe he argued with them," once again showing their view of Terry that he is stupid enough to believe them or the unimportance of his concerns and beliefs.
The way the film is shot at times also emphasises that Terry is a bum. In the first scene where the union mob walk out of the large ship, they walk in a straight line with the mob boss, Johnny Friendly leading the way. It can be seen that the order of the people walking is actually a hierarchy with Terry Malloy walking at the very back, showing he is the least important. Of importance is also the way the mob are walking. All of them are walking with their heads high, backs straight and with a sense of self-confidence and duty. Terry however, throughout much of the film is seen with a slouched stance, as if unsure of himself and no idea of his goals or aspirations in life or as if he has no chances to aspire to be anything as seen when he says, "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum. Which is what I am."
Even though Terry is shown as a bum for much of the film, we also see him evolve slowly during the course of the film. At first, he sticks to the waterfront ideals of remaining 'D and D' when he says, "A ain't ratting to no cheese-eater," and of self-preservation, "...down here you do it to them before they do it to you." However, through his moral guides of Edie and Father Barry, he soon realises the obvious black and white choices he has to make, rather than the choices being gray and complicated. He comes to a self-realisation after testifying and says to Edie, "Everybody thinks I'm a bum. Well Edie, I ain't a bum." This is the first time we see Terry display such a high degree of...