Million Dollar Baby (4/10)
by Tony Medley
Hope, all ye who enter here
Dante Alighieri, ďThe Divine ComedyĒ
Dante, this is the inscription over the entrance to hell. It should be
the inscription over the entrance to every theater showing ďMillion
Dollar Baby,Ē because sitting through it was a kind of hell for me. If
you, however, don't mind coming out of a long, 2:18 movie feeling like
the pits, and enjoy a negative film with a lousy moral that life stinks,
is unfair, and there is no hope, then you just might like this film.
Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) is a 31 year old waitress who wants to be a
boxer. She wants to be trained by Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood, who also
produced and directed), who owns and runs The Hit Pit, a run down gym in
downtown Los Angeles. Frankie is a trainer who doesnít want to train
Maggie, but his boxer has left him because Frankie kept refusing to
arrange a title fight for him. Narrating the story is Frankieís
caretaker, Scrap (Morgan Freeman), a former fighter who lost his eye in
a fight for which Frankie feels responsible.
The first 2/3 of
this film is just your standard, hokey ďRockyĒ type boxing film only
about a woman boxer. I donít like boxing; I donít like boxing films; and
I donít like watching women box. So even after the first 2/3 of this
film, I didnít like it, despite the exceptional acting by Hillary Swank
and Morgan Freeman. Mixed throughout the first 2/3, however, is a hint
of a secular agenda. The last 1/3 is all about this agenda.
Frankie goes to
Mass every morning and has a priest, Father Horvak (Brian OíByrne), who
seems to hate him. At the beginning of the film we see Frankie coming
out of St. Marks Church in Venice,
California, walking along and
talking with Fr. Horvak. Fr. Horvak is antagonistic and unsympathetic,
seemingly making fun of Frankie coming to church so much. Although as we
shall see, maybe the priest has a reason to be disgusted with Frankie.
Near the end of the film when Frankie has a difficult decision to make
involving a moral dilemma, Fr. Horvak is unfeeling. He gives Frankie the
correct advice, that he should leave it up to Godís will, but does it in
such an uncompassionate manner that it could not provide Frankie with
even a skosh of solace. Fr. Horvak then charges away without saying
goodbye. But before he leaves, he gives Frankie a curt dismissal, ďFrankie,
Iíve seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person
comes to church that much is the kind who canít forgive himself for
something.Ē This is a direct putdown by screenwriter Paul Haggis
and director Eastwood of all people who obtain comfort from religious
faith and specifically of the many Roman Catholics, like former
Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, who go to daily Mass
because they love God and want to start the day that way, who find daily
Mass an uplifting experience.
As to families,
Frankie writes long letters to his daughter, who returns them all
unopened. Itís never explained why. Itís been going on for years.
Thereís no forgiveness here. Just cold, hard rejection. Maggie has a
family from hell. She gives her mother a house and her mother puts her
down by telling her, ďYou should have just given me the money.Ē Her
sister just looks at her with hate in her eyes. This is also never
explained. Apparently itís the way families are in the Eastwood world.
Later in the film when Maggie is in dire straights, her family comes to
see her just to get her to sign over all her money to them. Families?
Clearly they are not the source of love, compassion and understanding.
Itís bad enough
to see two men (generally black) try to batter each other into
unconsciousness or death. What they do in the ring would be a felony
anywhere else. You canít even voluntarily agree to fight another person
without breaking the law. But in our society two men can get in a ring
and try to kill each other in front of a bloodthirsty crowd who only
cheer when one is in danger of losing consciousness. Itís not only not a
crime, itís glorified. This same scenario has now been extended to
include women. Those who have the supreme gift of giving birth; those
who nurture, hold, and coddle us, are now thrown into this same ring in
a movie that glorifies women beating the hell out of each other, blood
coming from their noses and mouths. Vicious. Brutal. "Hit her in the
t--ts," commands Frankie. No nurturing here. Just equal maiming rights.
This is a
manipulative movie about lack of hope and hate. We hate Maggieís family.
We hate the blacks who brutalize Maggie and a mentally deficient hanger
on. We hate Maggieís familyís attorney. Maybe we donít hate her, but
Frankieís daughter is presented as an unforgiving person.
is an unlikable and unadmirable character, which might explain the
priestís negative attitude towards him, however unchristian it might be.
Frankie rarely says a kind word to anyone. Weíre supposed to understand,
I guess, that beneath the gruff exterior beats a heart of gold. But
when? He selfishly keeps a boxer heís been training from fighting for
the title. He never forgives himself for causing Scrap to lose his eye
by not stopping the fight, even though it wasnít his place to do so, and
even though Scrap never did blame him. Until manipulated into it by
Scrap, he refuses to train Maggie, even though she pleads with him. He
never has a kind word for Scrap. Whatís to like or admire? As to his
daughter, if Frankie really wanted to mend fences with her, why doesn't
he just go to see her and confront her personally? He obviously knows
where she is. What kind of fool, other than a masochist who delights in
feeling like a pathetic martyr, just continues to write letter after
letter, year after year, and have them flung in his face? Maybe Fr.
Horvak has a reason for his attitude.
If youíre going
to see the movie even after all this, skip the next five paragraphs
because I give some essential plot details that could detract from your
being able to enjoy the movie (I donít know how anybody could enjoy this
movie, but, different strokes for different folks).
The movie also
makes no sense in the fighting sequence when Maggie gets injured. She
has decked her opponent, a black woman who is a vicious, dirty fighter.
I seem to remember the bell sounding. Anyway, Maggie starts to go to her
corner. Frankie puts her stool in the ring. Her opponent sneaks up
behind her and cold cocks her. And wins the fight! Maybe the round
wasnít over, but we are certainly led to believe that it was. Otherwise,
why would Frankie put her stool inside the ring? If this happened in
real life Maggieís opponent would be disqualified and Maggie would be
the champion. But this is reel life and it doesnít make sense. I asked
Warner Bros. about this and they were unable to answer me directly,
telling me that they would have to contact the writer. Now, excuse me,
but if a studioís executives canít explain a key part of the film, isnít
there something wrong with the film?
Maybe the worst
part about this movie is how it preaches that there is no hope or
redemption. After Maggie becomes a quadriplegic, she gives up. She
pleads with Frankie to kill her. Eastwood manipulates the presentation
so that we are rooting for Frankie to pull the plug. This is an insult
to people like Christopher Reeve and all the others who are unfortunate
enough to be quadriplegics. They show their courage in trying to prevail
and to make the best of it. Think of how much good Reeve did after his
accident and the magnificent example he was for others in similar
situations. This film tells Reeveís family and all the others who are
struggling to make their damaged lives meaningful that they are wasting
their time and that they should just end it all.
pulls the plug he does it in an odd way. He first disconnects her
breathing tube (she is unable to breathe on her own). It would seem to
me that that would cause immediate gasping, panic, pain, and loss of
consciousness after a minute or two. But after the tube is removed
Maggie just lies there peacefully while Frankie injects her with
something to put her to sleep. That seemed backwards to me. If youíre
going to pull the plug, wouldnít you first inject her with whatever it
was that would put her to sleep and then pull the tube so there would be
I asked the
priest responsible for allowing St. Marks to be used in the film how he
could allow a film that supported euthanasia to be shot in a Catholic
Church, which opposes euthanasia. He said that the filmmakers did not
show him the entire script, but only the scenes that were to be shot in
the Church, so he had no idea that euthanasia was involved. He was
clearly manipulated by Eastwood, who knew that the Church would never
allow a film that supported something contrary to Catholic doctrine to
be shot in one of their churches.
I asked how he
reacted to the priestís cold advice to Frankie near the end of the film
and he said that as it reads in the script, which is all he saw, it is
the correct advice, to leave it to Godís will, and he is right about
that. If you just read the words, it looks right. But what made it so
offensive was the way Bryan OíByrne as Fr. Horvak played the scene,
cold, hostile, and unsympathetic. Thatís not something that could be
predicted by reading the script. Clearly director Eastwood wanted to
present the Church in a bad light so he instructed the actor to play it
the way he did.
In summary, the
film is manipulative, presents a negative view of religious trust in
general and the Catholic Church and its priests specifically, is
anti-hope, anti-family, racist, buys into the feminist agenda that women
are just like men, is dark, is pro euthanasia propaganda, and is
January 5, 2005