I just want to have a brief look at the opening credits before I go on to look at the rest of the movie. The first thing we see after the IFC films banner is the silent announcement in blue letters on a black background that this is ‘An American Playhouse Presentation’. This fades, leaving a black screen for an instant, before we see, in the same blue lettering, that this is ‘An Errol Morris Film’. This fades in its turn, and then Philip Glass’s score commences at the instant that we see the title of the movie, in white block capitals, against the same black background. Almost instantly, the word ‘BLUE’ switches from white to red, and then the whole title is traversed by a thin blue line. All the words fade, except the BLUE (still in red), which lingers an instant, before leaving the line on its own. In sequence, the different movie-making functions, in white letters, appear above the line, while the names of the persons filling the functions are displayed beneath it.
Blogging the film for the Yale Daily News, Patrice Bowman wrote :
In the opening credits, the “Blue” of the film’s title is invaded by disorderly red. The implications of such color usage and the police are obvious, but it all still makes your stomach somersault.
But how obvious are the implications? The blood shed in the film is a policeman’s; the thin blue line is broken by a gunman, and through the breach a whole series of disorders is revealed. The first of these is the dead man’s partner, the first woman to go out on patrol, breaking the chain of masculinity. The next is the fact that after almost a month, the police have found no lead to the killer, an unprecedented hiatus. In part, this is imputed to the only witness – the female patrol officer, who, despite her training, forgets standard procedure, doesn’t note the licence number of the vehicle from which the fatal shots were fired, and is unable to hit the vehicle when she fires after it in her turn. Furthermore, when they do finally pick up a lead, it takes them to a friendly, open-faced child, too charming and polite to be a killer.
Faced with the child’s engaging grin, the Dallas police and the prosecutors throw their full weight into the charge against a drug-smoking drifter who, in Morris’s eyes, is innocent of the crime. By attempting to right the resulting wrong, the film can be read as an attempt to rescue the police from themselves, and it is indeed the Thin Blue Line, the stalwart upholders of the social order, that is Morris’s true subject. As Randall Adams says in his own account of the affair, the dead man ‘is the one whom this story is really about*.’ The red on the blue is the blood of patrolman Robert Wood.
What about the thin blue line itself? It is used here as a separator: above the line, in white, we see appear a series of functional titles, a selection of the institutional roles have been filled to bring this movie to the screen. Beneath this, in the same blood red that coloured the word BLUE, are spelled out the names of the individuals who fill the roles. On one side of the thin blue line is the ordered hierarchy of society, on the other, the dangerous division of personality, individuality, the state of nature that only Leviathan can tame and hold at bay.
Morris – and we’ll discuss this more fully later – sees his film as a charge against what he understands as the postmodern belief that there is no truth. I’m not sure that this is a postmodernist credo: my own understanding is that while the postmodern allows the small, local truths – such as ‘it was X who fired the gun, not Y’ – it proclaims that it is no longer possible to subscribe to the large stories, such as religions, large-scale political myths such as Marxism, or the belief in continual progress that is identified with Liberalism. The Thin Blue Line does have such a story to tell. Its hero offers himself in sacrifice, and the villain is a Hobbesian monster of pure desire.
*’Adams v. Texas’ by Randall Adams, William Hoffer and Marilyn Mona Hoffer, St. Martin’s Press, 1991, p. xi