Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Brief Intro

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a darkly comedic drama directed by Martin McDonagh. The story revolves around Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who, frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation of her daughter’s murder, rents three billboards to call attention to the unsolved crime. This provocative act sends shockwaves through the small town, sparking a series of events that explore themes of justice, anger, and redemption.

Literary Devices Used in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Let’s dive into the literary devices that make this film a masterpiece. Here’s a detailed look at ten devices, each with specific examples from the movie:


Movie SceneDevice Example
The three billboardsThe billboards symbolize Mildred’s persistent call for justice.
Dixon’s character arcDixon’s journey from bigotry to redemption serves as a metaphor for personal growth.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Chief Willoughby’s terminal illnessThe chief, who is supposed to bring justice, is helpless in his own situation.
Mildred’s act of setting the police station on fireShe seeks justice but commits an arson crime herself.


Movie SceneDevice Example
The burned billboardsSymbolize the town’s resistance to facing its issues.
Red paint on the billboardsRepresents anger and the blood of Mildred’s daughter.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Mildred’s initial confrontations with the policeHints at the escalating conflict.
Chief Willoughby’s interactions with MildredHis compassionate approach foreshadows his letter after his death.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Mildred’s memories of her daughterProvides background and emotional depth.
Chief Willoughby’s final daysReveals his motivations and character depth.

Dark Humor

Movie SceneDevice Example
Mildred’s interactions with the priestUses humor to address serious social issues.
Dixon’s clumsy brutalityHighlights the absurdity of his character’s actions.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Mildred’s plea for justiceEvokes empathy for her grief and determination.
Chief Willoughby’s farewell lettersStirs emotions through his sincere words.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Mildred’s calm demeanor vs. town’s outrageHighlights her unwavering resolve.
Dixon’s initial brutality vs. later kindnessEmphasizes his character development.


Movie SceneDevice Example
The town of EbbingRepresents broader societal issues like justice and redemption.
Billboards vs. police stationThe conflict between individual justice and institutional inaction.


Movie SceneDevice Example
Mildred’s confrontations with Chief WilloughbySharp and revealing exchanges that drive the plot.
Dixon’s conversations with his motherExposes Dixon’s upbringing and influences.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

Mildred Hayes

PathosHer grief and determination to seek justice evoke strong emotions in the audience.
IronyHer quest for justice leads her to commit morally questionable acts.

Chief Willoughby

ForeshadowingHis terminal illness sets the stage for his later actions and impact on the story.
SymbolismRepresents the failings and humanity of the law enforcement system.

Jason Dixon

JuxtapositionHis transformation from a violent officer to a more empathetic character highlights his development.
AllegoryEmbodies the potential for personal growth and redemption.

Character Dynamics

Mildred and Chief Willoughby

Their dynamic is a mix of respect and confrontation, driven by Mildred’s unwavering demand for justice and Willoughby’s understanding yet powerless position. Literary devices like dialogue and foreshadowing reveal their complex relationship.

Mildred and Jason Dixon

Initially adversarial, their relationship evolves through juxtaposition and symbolism, showing the potential for change and understanding even in the face of deep-seated anger and prejudice.

Thematic Analysis

Justice and Injustice

SymbolismThe billboards represent the quest for justice in a system perceived as unjust.
IronyMildred’s methods to seek justice often conflict with the law, highlighting the complexity of true justice.

Redemption and Forgiveness

JuxtapositionDixon’s character arc shows his journey from bigotry to a quest for redemption.
PathosChief Willoughby’s letters seek forgiveness and understanding from beyond the grave.

Grief and Anger

MetaphorThe billboards are a metaphor for Mildred’s unending grief and anger.
FlashbacksMildred’s memories of her daughter add depth to her grief and motivations.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Visual and Sound Techniques

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismCinematographyThe framing of the billboards against the landscape emphasizes their symbolic importance.
IronyMusic and Sound DesignThe use of darkly humorous music during tense scenes enhances the ironic tone.
PathosLightingSoft, warm lighting in flashback scenes contrasts with the harsh lighting of the present, evoking nostalgia and sadness.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene: Mildred’s Confrontation with Chief Willoughby

YouTube Link: Mildred Confronts Willoughby

Breakdown: This scene uses sharp dialogue to highlight the tension between Mildred and Chief Willoughby. The visual framing places Mildred in a position of power, emphasizing her determination. The ironic undertone is enhanced by the calm yet intense music.

Scene: Dixon’s Redemption Arc

YouTube Link: Dixon’s Turning Point

Breakdown: Dixon’s journey is highlighted through a powerful montage, juxtaposing his violent past with his growing empathy. The use of lighting and music underscores his transformation, making this scene pivotal to the narrative.


Interactive Quiz

Engage with the movie’s literary devices! Test your knowledge below.

  1. Which literary device is prominently featured in the use of the three billboards?
  2. Dixon’s character arc is an example of:
  3. The scene where Mildred sets fire to the police station is an example of:
  4. Chief Willoughby’s letters primarily evoke which literary device?