On the surface, it may not seem that the recent movies “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “I, Tonya” have much in common, but they do.

Both feature angry people acting brutally toward others.

In other words, the way we live now.

“Three Billboards” tells the story of Mildred Hayes, who is furious that the local police haven’t arrested anyone in connection with the horrific rape and murder of her daughter. She rents three billboards and uses them to highlight police inaction.

Mildred is grieving. She is stuck in a small town. She works in a gift shop. Her ex-husband, who beat her, is dating a 19-year-old. Mildred is not afraid to use violence when she feels she needs to. Yeah, that’s a problem.

Then there’s Jason Dixon, an alcoholic racist who is also a police officer. Dixon’s cruelty apparently has no limits; at one point he throws a man out of a second-story window. He is no intellectual (we only see him reading comic books; it took him years to get through the police academy) and he lives with his mother. Oh, yes, he is stuck in nowheresville, too.

The American dream has eluded these two.

Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding is the subject of the eponymous “I, Tonya.” Although she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, she is most widely remembered for an attack on one of her rivals in the skating world, Nancy Kerrigan. A two-bit criminal struck Kerrigan on the leg with a telescopic baton a few months before the 1994 Winter Olympics; he was carrying out a scheme involving Harding’s ex-husband.

Harding grew up poor and was physically abused by her mother. She married a man who hit her and she fought back (shooting at him, apparently). Harding was a top-notch skater, but the judges despised her working-class persona and home-sewn costumes. Though she fought the odds, she couldn’t jump the hurdle that one judge told her was a problem. There was no way she could present herself as part of a picture-perfect American family.

Of course, Harding’s hardscrabble life is truly American. What is saddest about her story is that though she worked hard — as we are told we must do to raise ourselves up in this country — it wasn’t enough.

Though these two movies take place more than 20 years apart, the tarnished America they portray is timeless.

“The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the U.S. now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries,” according to recent comments from an independent human rights expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to examine poverty and human rights across the world. Estimates say some 40 million Americans live in poverty.

People in this country who think for themselves know that we, the average folk, are constantly being swindled, duped and conned. The latest is a duplicitous tax cut that ultimately benefits the wealthy and corporations, while shredding social-welfare programs. It’s hard enough being middle class nowadays. What does it feel like to be poor? Is anybody dreaming the American dream anymore?

I am angry a lot, too, though I don’t express it with my fists. I am angry at the ugly moral morass my country has fallen into, the rampant racism, the mistreatment of women and children, the apparent acceptance of social injustice. So while I would never condone the kind of violence the characters in these two movies perpetrated, I could see how their country was failing them in many ways too.

These movies also were a reminder of how ingrained violence is in our culture. Which is a reminder of the reason why too many of us oppose any limits on gun ownership. Why we fail to act (although Florida has taken some steps) even after we realize that the most recent mass murder in a school is not going to be the last one, unless we do something differently.

There’s some high-powered swearing in these movies. Words I’ve never even said aloud. Yet, I admit hearing them was cathartic.

Is that wrong? Maybe — but in the end, not as wrong as letting civilians own assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines when they have no reasonable, no conscionable, reason to do so.

Especially when the anger out there is palpable.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: