The Oscars are this upcoming weekend, and Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a heavy favorite to bring home some gold. The film’s writing and performances have received heaps of praise from critics and fans alike, with Sam Rockwell’s turn as Officer Jason Dixon being one of the most talked about performances of the year. But there’s something special about this character other than Rockwell’s performance, a very minor nuance that only eagle-eyed viewers and comic book fans would notice, that reveals Dixon’s fate in the film’s first act, further exemplifying McDonagh’s brilliance.
*Spoilers Ahead for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri*
Jason Dixon is an asshole. He’s not only obnoxious and painfully stupid, but he’s just the worst kind of cop there is: the kind that thinks the rules don’t apply to him. He’s openly racist, is accused of torturing black prisoners, and proudly throws people out of their windows in broad daylight. Dixon is the closest thing Three Billboards has to a villain. But then there’s the twist. After a letter from his deceased mentor and idol tells him to let go of his hate and learn to love, Jason decides to turn his life around, and almost becomes the story’s hero in the process.
It’s a beautiful character arc, well-written and totally unexpected. Unexpected, that is, unless you’re a comic book fan. See, it’s a minor character trait, and the characters only call attention to it once, but Dixon is an avid comic reader. And his favorite title seems to be Incorruptible, written by Mark Waid with various artists and published by Boom! Studios.
Now, on a very basic level this is ironic and worth a chuckle. “Heh, the most corrupt cop in Ebbing likes a comic called Incorruptible. That’s cute.” But there is so much more to this Easter egg than meets the eye.
Incorruptible is a spin-off of another Waid series, Irredeemable. However, where Irredeemable shows the shift of a superhero to a supervillain, Incorruptible does the opposite. It’s the story Max Damage, world class bad guy who decides to switch sides and play hero after his archnemesis breaks bad. Sounds loosely familiar, right?
Yes, Dixon’s arc is very reminiscent of Max’s, minus the superpowers and archnemesis. And also like Max, Dixon learns that it’s not so easy going from universally hated to hero. No one wants to trust you after all the pain and damage you’ve caused. It’s a long, uphill battle, and redemption is probably never possible, but if you truly want to do good, you need to do it in spite of that.
Jason Dixon’s switch is one of the most surprising and impactful parts of Three Billboards, and Martin McDonagh secretly showed you it was going to happen right from the start. It just further exemplifies the nuanced brilliance of this film – brilliance in its writing, its direction, and its set/costume design. We’ll see on Sunday just how much the Academy appreciates that brilliance.