Terry Malloy, the protagonist of On the Waterfront, is a dubious hero indeed. Marlin Brando superbly plays the part of a non-committal dockworker concerned only about getting through the day. As the movie progresses, though, one can see dramatic changes in Terry's character.
Early in the film, Terry expresses his life philosophy simply and clumsily in response to Edie's question: "Which side are you with?" "Me? I'm with me, Terry." He seems to wish to play the part of the "tough guy", as Edie says, but his insecurity is evident in his body language. He hunches, shuffles, shoves his hands into his pockets, and rarely looks anyone in the eye. An ex-prizefighter, he is now a "bum", running errands and living on the generosity of Johnny Friendly, the local union gang leader. He is afraid to stand up for anything or anyone, and strictly adheres to the docks' "D & D" policy.
Terry begins to spend more time with Edie and Father Barry, his conscience, never clear of the guilt of being an accomplice in the murder of Joey Doyle, begins to dictate his actions. When Charlie confronts him in the car, he is no longer the cringing, subservient brother; he feels that he, too, is a human being with rights, and is indignant that they should have been taken away from him.
As Terry stands in the witness stand, his character metamorphosis is almost complete. He stands erect, speaks clearly, and coolly returns Johnny Friendly's glare. He is becoming more and more independent and self-assured. In the courtroom, he has allowed his conscience to take over, and is doing what he feels to be the right thing; he is also effectively revenging his brother's murder.
When he reports to the shape-up the morning after the courtroom, all of...