“MILLION DOLLAR BABY” BRAWL
a commentary by Tony McRae
commentary contains a spoiler.
First, there was FAHRENHEIT 9/11, followed by THE
PASSION OF THE CHRIST, each espoused by its devotees and vilified
by its critics. And now comes MILLION
DOLLAR BABY with its seeming condoning of euthanasia.
Church groups and ethicists are again up in arms.
I must confess that when
“Million Dollar Baby” ended I wasn’t thinking about euthanasia at
all. What bothered me was the
way the last half-hour or so of the movie was constructed and
photographed. I knew well
before the ending what Frankie Dunn, the fight manager (play by Clint
Eastwood), would do once his prize fighter Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary
incapacitated. I knew also
that he would agonize over his decision, that he would go yet again to his
priest and ask his advice, knowing full well what the priest would say and
knowing he would heed only his own heart.
The priest tells him he
cannot do what he is contemplating because he will be so lost he will
never find himself again. Frankie feels he's already lost.
What drives Frankie Dunn—and
the movie—is his guilt and how he will redeem himself.
We never know why Frankie feels such deep-seated guilt, only that
it had something to do with his family.
Did he abuse and beat his wife?
Or his daughter? Or
both? He has tried over the years to
reach his daughter by mail only to have his letters returned
unopened. I wondered why he did not go to her, plead his case in
person, ask for her forgiveness as he so often asks his God. Whatever the reason, we
see that he is a tortured man, so tortured that the only way to redeem
himself is by a heroic act. And
just in case we somehow miss this inner agony, Eastwood lights
each of his actors (himself included) in
dramatic fashion, often using low-key lighting to emphasize especially
that craggy face etched with torment.
Initially we think
Frankie’s heroic act is his decision to train and manage this girl
boxer, to raise Maggie out of poverty, to turn her into a “million
dollar baby.” But Maggie is
so much more than a boxer: she
is Frankie’s second chance. No
only can he train a champion, he can finally become the loving father; and
most importantly, he may be able to assuage his own self-loathing.
Maggie is terrific in the
ring, and she loves Frankie dearly.
We know it’s too good to
In the championship fight
Maggie is sucker punched, falls onto her spine, never able to stand or
move or breathe on her own again. Her
situation is hopeless. She
wants to die, and she wants Frankie to see to it.
The entire hospital
sequence which ends in Maggie’s death is problematical for me, not
because Maggie does die at Frankie’s hand but because Eastwood the
director clears away the shadings and makes it happen relatively easily.
His handling of Maggie's hillbilly family is revealing. The
overdrawn contrast of the venially one-dimensional mother and the punk
brother with Frankie Dunn's obvious love for Maggie is an misstep. I
sense director Eastwood's underestimating his audience's
perceptions. There's no way the astute Maggie will succumb to
her mother's obvious greed, no way she will break the only human tie she
has: she and Frankie Dunn form a bond stronger than any blood tie.
She knows that Frankie will do what needs to be done. Sure there's
his initial refusal to acquiesce to Maggie's wish to die; he understands
that if he fails her here, he
fails himself. He has no other choice.
Late that night Frankie
returns to the
hospital. As pictured by
Eastwood it’s a nearly abandoned facility:
there is no one on duty watching this young woman on life support.
Frankie does the deed, and leaves unnoticed.
I was appalled by the
careless expediency of this sequence.
By the end of the movie
Eastwood has turned Frankie Dunn into one of those superheroes who is
forced to kill to achieve a greater good.
Frankie proves capable of doing the unthinkable, and to walk
If we are to
believe the last minutes of “Million Dollar Baby” in which Morgan
Freeman is writing a letter to Frankie's estranged daughter, her father is
a flawed but great man, redeemed by his last act of sacrifice.
The last scene shows Frankie Dunn in his newly purchased diner
where he and Maggie had their last meal together. He has finally
found some peace and redemption.
But by this time I felt too
manipulated to care.