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Mississippi Burning character essay In the film "Mississippi Burning", directed by Alan Parker, characterization is employed very effectively to illuminate the themes of tolerance and social change in the southern United States in the sass. Parker uses the buddy/buddy formula through Ward and Anderson to act as a focal point for the plot; as well as being an analogy for the greater conflict in society, in that they have polar opposite personality traits and initially cannot stand each other, but their shared belief in Justice allows them to tolerate each other and eventually work together to solve the case.
From the ginning of the movie, Parker clearly shows that Ward and Anderson are a mismatched duo in every way possible. Several contrasting personality traits are explored in various scenes; such as Ward's youth and naivety compared to Andersen's experience and
cynicism, and Ward's conventional way of doing things compared to Andersen's unorthodox, personal style. The progression of their relationship towards co-operation is used to represent themes of tolerance, but highlights the difference between personal conflicts and societal conflicts.
It also reveals the director's message: that tolerance and co-existence is always possible; forever, some issues and prejudices are too deep-rooted to enable co-operation and result in overall social change. One of the major differences between Ward and Anderson that is explored in the early scenes of the film are their levels of experience, especially regarding southern culture. Ward is a young and naive character who has grown up in the north, and has no knowledge of life in the southern states, and does not relate easily to the locals.
In contrast to this, Anderson is
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several years older than Ward and was raised in Mississippi, and therefore understands the ways of the locals and finds it much easier to get along with them; despite this, he possesses a veiled sense of loathing and cynicism towards the culture. This difference in nature is explored in many scenes, such as the early scene in the sheriffs office, when Ward requests to see the sheriff. The sheriffs deputy, Peel, tells Ward that the sheriff is busy and to wait or come back later.
Ward, oblivious to the fact that the sheriff has no intentions of seeing him, decides to wait patiently; revealing his naivety, and placing himself in an inferior, submissive position by sitting down. However, Anderson shows his experience by realizing that Ward is being played for a fool, and asserts his dominance over Peel by using aggressive body language and profanity to intimidate him - "listen to me, you backwoods sit-ass, you. " The director utilizes the miss-en- scene by showing Anderson in a higher position than Peel, implying dominance and power.
Andersen's approach proves to be the more effective one, as the sheriff overhears the commotion and leaves his office to meet with Ward and Anderson. This is a perfect example of Ward and Andersen's differing levels of experience in dealing tit people from southern states; it shows Andersen's social wisdom and directness, while exposing Ward's inexperienced nature. Another contrasting personality trait between Ward and Anderson is their method of approaching the case.
Until the final part of the movie, Ward persists with employing a very conventional, by-the-book method to try and solve the case. An example of this is
the fact that when he feels he is in over his head with the case, he calls for two hundred more FBI agents; a practical but somewhat impersonal approach that does not prove fruitful. In fact, Ward's call for manpower upsets the regale balance of the community, and eradicates all hope of the local police co- operating with the investigation - as a local Judge states, "their presence here has provoked a lot of people. On the other hand, Anderson, who is more aware of the intricacies of race relations in Mississippi, prefers to employ a more subtle but ultimately more effective approach: getting to know the people involved in the case, and extracting information through humans, rather than solid evidence. This approach does prove fruitful, as his interactions with Mrs. Peel incite her into revealing the whereabouts of the buried bodies of the civil rights workers.
However, these interactions with Mrs. Peel cause Anderson to develop feelings for her, which dictate his actions later in the film and cause him to partially abandon his professionalism; this emotional tendency is one of Andersen's flaws. An example of the differing approaches of Ward and Anderson is when they are observing several suspected ASK members getting out of their cars from a distance, shown by a long shot from the point of view of the two detectives. Ward - taking a standard, pragmatic approach - says, "Let me run a check on the plates, " which uncovers some useful information, but nothing groundbreaking.
Anderson, however, decides to visit a barber and initiates a conversation with the mayor of the town - a conversation that gives him further
insight into southern attitudes and values, and allows him to poke a few subtle Jibes directed at these values, giving the mayor an intimidating and slightly threatening impression of him. This expresses the contrast in their methods well; while not ineffective, Ward's methods are predictable and ultimately not successful, whereas Andersen's personal methods are what get the Job done - showing that no matter how many FBI agents are called for, sometimes all it takes is a impel conversation.
These differences cause several moments of conflict between the two characters throughout most of the movie; starting with the scene in the car where Andersen's joking nature is not appreciated by Ward, who tells him to "Just read the file," and culminating in a tense encounter in which Ward pulls a gun to Andersen's head when Anderson seeks revenge for Peel beating his wife. However, this confrontation leads to Ward accepting Andersen's unconventional methods - an interesting character development for Ward, as it indicates he possesses more flexibility than he iris appears to.
It is the development of this relationship - from resenting each other and having very little co-operation initially, to working as a team to take down a section of the ASK and solve the case that was the purpose of their investigation - that is the focus of the director throughout the film. This evolution of the relationship is made possible by their common goal: their shared belief in Justice and equality and their determination.
This is how the director employs the buddy/buddy genre to great effect - two characters with different characteristics and natures experience inflict at first, but are driven by
their shared values to ultimately succeed at their goal, creating a harmonious relationship in the process. A quotation from Ward sums this up perfectly: "For a moment there, Mr. Anderson, it sounded like we were both on the same side. " Parker employs this relationship dynamic as a microcosm representing the societal conflict of the setting.
The Journey of Ward and Andersen's partnership Juxtaposes itself with this conflict, in that unlike the situation between the two races, Ward and Anderson are able to overcome their differences and work together towards a positive end. This contrasts with the racial conflict, as the conservative nature of the locals and past bloodshed as well as general prejudice meaner that the two races are unable to come together as a unified force.
The reason that Ward and Anderson are able to unite and overcome their opposing characteristics is the fact that they have a shared determination to bring Justice and equality to the southern states; surprisingly, the white and black communities also have something in common: religion. However, this connection is shunned by the white community, who believe hat the black people are unworthy of sharing their religion.
This sentiment is especially evident in a scene in which a group of ASK extremists attack a group of black people as they are leaving a church - their sanctuary. Everybody flees except for one boy who kneels on the floor, praying. He is kicked in the face by a Klan member, who also kicks the Bible that is lying on the ground next to him. He moves from being bathed in light while he is praying, to lying in the
dark on the ground; this represents his symbolic right to pray and have a God being taken away from him.
This is a statement of utter contempt from the Klan member as he truly believes he has a moral right to attack a boy while he is praying outside a church, and the fact that he believes this shows how deep-rooted the hatred really is. It is also ironic, as the ASK claim to be acting on God's behalf, yet the Klan member's actions are highly disrespectful of the Bible and the principles of Christianity. This gives insight into the general attitude at the time: that black people are considered to be below the white people, and that basic morality and religious codes are not applicable to them.
This shows that it is an incredibly deep-rooted societal issue, and attitudes cannot be changed simply by solving the case; while the conflict between the black community and the white community shares parallels with the conflict between Ward and Anderson, ultimately a personal conflict is much more easily resolved than a societal one. While the individual case that is the focus of the movie is resolved, this victory for the black community and equality in general is barely a surface crack in the big issue. Nevertheless, it is still a victory for equality and it is a small step on the road to social change.
This, I believe, is Parser's message to the audience: that tolerance and co-existence is always possible between two groups of people, but in some cases, true unity and co- operation is made near impossible by seemingly irreconcilable differences and prejudices. Parker conveys
this message successfully by employing the buddy/buddy formula in the characterization of Ward and Anderson. The evolution of their relationship towards unity, made possible by the existence of a common factor, is proof that initial conflict and differ renders can be overcome to form a unified and co- operative working force.
Parker then Juxtaposes this relationship with the overall societal conflict in order the highlight the differences between the two situations; the common factor of the white and black communities is shunned and blatantly disrespected, revealing the true magnitude of the contempt and prejudice inherent in the white community. This proves that true unity and co-operation is a very distant prospect, and that these attitudes are so ingrained into society that any change is extremely difficult to effect.
Parker ends the film with a victory - albeit a relatively insignificant one - for the black community and equality in general, revealing his bias towards the black community and his support of Justice and equality. This ending is optimistic but somewhat bittersweet; the victory for the black community is a positive step towards true equality, but realistically, the road to true equality will take thousands more of these small steps. Parker shows this by showing how cemented these social attitudes are, so that the viewer is well aware that the conflict remains long after the case is solved.
I believe that Parser's purpose in making this film was to mind viewers that the issue is still relevant today; while today's society are significantly further along on that road to equality than they were in the sass, they are not there yet. By making us aware of
the way things were in the sass, Parker makes us realism that these attitudes are still in place, albeit less prominent in society. "Mississippi Burning" contributes to awareness of this still-relevant issue; and by becoming aware of the fact that we as a society are not there yet - and perhaps never will reach the end - we can continue along the long road to equality.