Three Billboards Outing You as American

I sit in the theater in Kirchberg, a cosmopolitan neighborhood of Luxembourg City, sinking lower into my seat, inch by inch, as the angry film unfolds.

Already I had felt awkward, a woman in her 50s at a busy movie theater alone on a Saturday night.

With assigned seats, I follow two couples to a center theater location, only to see one of the guys glance at me next to him and swiftly change seats with one of the girls.

But now Frances McDormand’s tormented pursuit of justice in the unsolved rape and murder of her teen daughter – Three Billboards out of Ebbing, Missouri – is quietly freaking this Midwestern American out.

Fuck this, fuck that, and YES, I know you are dying, small-town police chief, so I want this heinous crime solved before you croak. McDormand is a tour de force, but, holy shit, I don’t know this woman.

She wears auto repair shop coveralls to her gift store job, eschews all makeup and treats a dwarf friend like a doorstop.

Or maybe I do know her. I just don’t want sophisticated Europeans to know that.

Or think she’s your average American.

Woody Harrelson, playing the police chief targeted by McDormand’s billboards, sprinkles in more fuck this, fuck that, in talking with his wife and two young daughters – and isn’t my penis satisfying on the day I plan to blow my cancer-addled brains out?

Who talks like that? Trump voters?

I grew up and went to college in Missouri. Not in the Ozarks, but in suburban St. Louis and then the iconic college town, Columbia.

Left home at 18 and have never really returned – Texas, Boston, Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Upstate New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Florence, Italy.

I’m a Missouri ex-pat for sure.

Now I live in Luxembourg, teaching journalism and working on my own stories.

My Americanism in the age of Trump is a burden here. Even my college students feel it.

“I was sitting in a bar in Paris,” one of the guy students told me, “when they found out I was American and started asking me about Trump. I just sat back and listened to their endless criticism. What could I say?”

But this Three Billboards thing weighs heavily on me.

A favorite for an Academy Award. A penetrating view into rural America. It’s not an allegory, not even Hillbilly Elegy.

It is America, raw.

And I don’t like it.

The audience this night in Kirchberg is quiet, absorbed with the stellar acting and – I hope – the understanding that I (the anonymous American sitting next to them) am not this Ebbing person.

They will never meet her because she doesn’t come out of her trailer much.

Only plays pool and swills cheap beer with dwarfs on rare Saturday nights in places they will never go.

She will never vote for Trump again, right?

The girl in the theater next to me barely moves a muscle. I cross and re-cross my legs.

As Harrelson’s character kills himself – with a gun, of course, so typically American – even more mayhem ensues. Torching of the billboards, firebombing the police station, violent family confrontations.

I shift again in my seat, reposition my coat on my lap.

The Luxembourg audience around me is rapt and frozen.

As the film ends, the foursome next to me commence rapid analysis in French.

I don’t speak French – so typical of Americans. Spanish and Italian, yes, but I don’t speak the language of love.

That’s when it hits me. For the first time in my life I don’t love America.

I’m as angry as McDormand, but instead of telling people fuck this, fuck that, I hide. I suppress.

In that Kirchberg theater, I don my coat, hat and gloves, and without a backward glance at the foursome dissecting the movie, I slip off into the EU night.

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