A Discourse on Handling Grief from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is built on the complexity of its characters
rather than straight-forward character arcs traditionally seen (this article contains spoilers so
unless you are alright with not having seen the movie, you have been notified). As an audience,
redemption for good characters and retribution for bad characters only seem natural and for
many viewers, that’s what we want. Mildred, the embattled mother fighting for justice over the
murder of her daughter does not get redeemed nor the closure she wants emotionally by the end
of the film. Neither does Dixon, the wild and racist cop, gets fully redeemed nor punished for his
actions throughout the story. By the end of the movie, the audience is put in a strange gray area
and we are left in a place where nothing is resolved as Mildred and Dixon contemplate on
whether to kill a rapist as they drive off. It’s a strange film where we get to experience the
frustration and outrage of the failures of our justice systems through the lack of any real
resolution to the film. The film focuses on the pointless actions that are brought on by grief and
the stress of situations that don’t have simple solutions.

In one scene, there’s an interaction between Mildred and a doe underneath the billboards
meant for damning the police for essentially closing the case on her daughter’s death. In the
interaction her and the deer, we get a glimpse into Mildred’s mind as she talks to the deer: “Yup,
still no arrest. How come I wonder? Because there ain’t no God, the whole world empty, and it
don’t matter what we do to each other... I hope not.” This line is particularly interesting because
everything she says here seems to contradict her actions up to the point in the movie. Mildred is
certainly no saint and her actions are built on her hellbent desire for vengeance; it is surprising
for her to have said what she did. But it also makes sense because as we can see from her last
statement, ‘I hope not’, Mildred is a hopeful person, a fighter for what she believes in, who tries
in the entirety of the movie to get the police department to reopen the case on her daughter. But
seeing how she takes things into her own hands is where the film shows how rage can cloud our
minds and blur boundaries between moral goods and evils. Mildred’s emotions lead to her
belligerent behavior and even burning down the police station and I thought to myself, how
would I confront the world in face of such anger and outrage that I would even commit arson?

Unlike Mildred, I am not just hopeful but assured there is a God and the world holds
meaning through the consequence of my actions. But it is difficult for me to relate to the level of
grief that she experienced, but I don’t think I’d ever be willing to do what she did in the face of
adversity. But in such a damning situation, it would be difficult to keep my wits end and trust in
God as a Christian. So how can we confront such grief and injustice and trust in the Lord all in
the same breath?

Like Mildred said, we shouldn’t hope God is not real because if God’s not real, then
everything we do and strive for would in the end be indeterminate. Even our suffering and grief
would be chalked up as a waste time and energy and the emotions we spend lose all value in the
grand scheme of things. This is why, during those trying times of grief and suffering we should
put our trust in God. We as denizens of a broken must live with suffering as a natural occurrence
in this world and gave everyone of us the free will to choose to trust in him in the midst of

Mildred’s choice ends in her anger, on the road to another state with Dixon to kill a rapist
unrelated to her daughter. But the movie ends with her contemplating whether killing a random
rapist would accomplish anything, and from that scene we see a cyclical pattern to the futility in
reacting to our hate and anger in kind. When has our anger and outrage help us find the peace
that we are looking for during the darkest stages in life?

It sucks to be in the middle of something that is hard, but God offers us comfort, hope,
and promises of better things to come. We don’t want to hide away from our trials nor do we
want to react to them anger and vengeance, as we get to see from Mildred’s journey. We should
not want to hide away but come to understand and build a sense of trust with a God that is ready
to meet us with loving grace through the plans he’s set forth for us, and trust that he will brings
us our shalom in our troubles when we are yoked together.