Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Solid story structure supports & strengthens this meaningful narrative.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards features captivating performances from its trio of lead actors. Under-celebrated, and perhaps more responsible for the film's success, the narrative stands out as a reliable and competent example of a Personal Triumph. The interrelated nature of the narrative's Storypoints cast a strong and compelling argument: Vindication awaits those who continue to defend against the indefensible, even if it means inventing a scapegoat.

Three Billboards in the Story Atomizer

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) starts the narrative with her introduction of the three billboards calling out Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for his failure to find her daughter's rapist and murderer (Story Driver of Action and Overall Story Focus of Inaction). As Protagonist, Mildred wants Willoughby to identify the killer--if for no other reason than to make sure this kind of thing never happens again (Overall Story Goal of Learning and Overall Story Direction of Protection). Willoughby initially balks, stating rules and regulations and procedures that prevent infringing on other's rights (Overall Story Catalyst of Prerequisites). While conflict in the narrative finds its basis in the pursuit and prevention of reopening the investigation (Overall Story Concern of Learning), the Author measures the character's level of concern with a greater understanding of each other (Overall Story Benchmark of Understanding).

A striking example of this connection between Concern and Benchmark lies in the brief moment of heart encountered within Willoughby's office (Relationship Story Domain of Psychology). Agitated by Mildred's firm position and refusal to back down (Main Character Throughline of Mind and Main Character Concern of Preconscious), Willoughby hacks violently. By spitting up blood on Hayes, the Sheriff reveals a possible source of his lack of action: pancreatic cancer (Influence Character Throughline of Universe and Influence Character Signpost 2 of Progress). For a brief second, Mildred reveals compassion for her adversary—releasing tension and signifying the potential for development in their relationship (Relationship Story Inhibitor of Appraisal and Relationship Story Problem of Reaction).

Mildred suppresses compassion throughout the narrative, causing her to miss the forest for the trees (Main Character Concern of Conscious). Driven by the chance that she had something to do with her daughter's murder, Mildred projects her need for punishment and retribution onto this mystery assailant (Main Character Problem of Possibility and Main Character Critical Flaw of Need).

The first half of the narrative finds Mildred moving out of inciting responses and into painful memories of her daughter (Main Character Signpost 1 of Preconscious and Main Character Signpost 2 of Memory). Willoughby's suicide and subsequent letter extolling the possibility of a brighter future down the road (Story Driver of Action and Influence Character Signpost 3 of Future) pushes Mildred into violent rage (Main Character Signpost 3 of Subconscious).

But it's ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) who gives her a moment of pause and quiet reflection as to her blindness (Main Character Signpost 4 of Conscious). He lit the fires that burned down her billboards, not Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell).

Her anger and subsequent fire-bombing of the Ebbing Police Station was unwarranted—another case of over-reacting (Story Driver of Action and Overall Story Problem of Reaction).

Dixon takes over for Willoughby after the Sheriff's passing in a classic Influence Character hand-off. Dixon's over-reaction and defense of all things Willoughby situate him in a perfect position to take over this critical point-of-view (Influence Character Problem of Reaction and Overall Story Direction of Protection). His time spent in recovery and reflection on his current predicament—and the letter from Willoughby—help push him in the right direction (Influence Character Solution of Proaction).

While Dixon's investigation fails to identify who raped Mildred's daughter, it does create the opportunity to find retribution elsewhere (Overall Story Outcome of Failure). By inventing a scapegoat, someone to saddle the blame, both Dixon and Mildred resolve their friendship with a drive to Iowa (Overall Story Consequence of Conceiving and Relationship Story Solution of Proaction). Unsure of their decision and quite possibly questioning the rightness of their shared motivation, Mildred confesses her crime and asks if Dixon is sure about their mission.

"I guess we can decide along the way."

Mildred smiles—confirming her steadfast perspective and reinforcing Dixon's changed point-of-view (Main Character Resolve of Steadfast, Influence Character Resolve of Changed, and Story Judgment of Good).