Million Dollar Baby (4/10)

by Tony Medley

Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here

Dante Alighieri, ďThe Divine ComedyĒ

According to 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.

Maggie 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.

Frankie himself 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.

When Frankie 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 no suffering?

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 terminally depressing.

January 5, 2005

The End