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On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

Columbia Pictures, July 28, 1954 (US)

Screenplay: Budd Schulberg, based on his own original story, suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson

Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Eva Marie Saint

It will kill you, plain and simple. Rot your core.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando): Conscience, that stuff will drive you nuts.

It’s not about sweating the small stuff either. This isn’t about cheating on a diet or playing hooky from work to catch an afternoon start at Wrigley. It isn’t the decision to skip Spin class on Sunday in favor of sleeping in, and it isn’t the little white lie that gets you out of a dinner party invite.

No, a trial of conscience is rooted in something much deeper, something far more epic. To reduce it to a simplification, it is the face-off between right and wrong.

Terry: Shut up about that conscience. That’s all I’ve been hearing.

The plot thickens when the realization hits that simply understanding the difference between right versus wrong is not nearly enough. A real solution requires a call to action. Only problem is, the only actions available are dictated by a choice between two evils.

Terry: You know if I spill, my life ain’t worth a nickel.

Father Barry (Karl Malden): And how much is your soul worth if you don’t?

So you can’t win, although that is hardly worthy of breaking news. You knew it all along, thus the conundrum, the stickiness. Back and forth, back and forth, around we go.

Ultimately, you choose the lesser of two evils in favor of what is easiest for you. You, you, you.

Terry: Quit worrying about the truth all the time and worry about yourself.

Funny thing is, nothing is solved. The conscience bobs back to the surface, floating, but not dead. And you thought you had it taken care of. Ha! Not so fast, not so fast.

The return of the rot.

Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint): I’ve seen things that are so wrong.

Wrong? You want to bring up wrong? Do you have any idea what it feels like to wake each day and look into that same cracked mirror, reminded over and over of the failures and missed opportunities that delivered you here? Do you have any fucking clue what that feels like?

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let’s face it.

As the years pile on, the residue of regret hardens the skin of the broken man, leaving him with a turtle shell that serves not only to protect but also to distance him from the past and future alike.

He retreats, and yet, the boy still exists. Traces of his innocence make cameos in the night, looking down from above, behind the curtains.

Edie: He tries to act tough … but there’s a look in his eye.

A spark. It starts as just a quick thought: Maybe it’s not too late. A spark, maybe, just maybe … a flame, it’s not too late.

The ending is the middle is the beginning. Here is where it starts.