Million Dollar Baby

Partially Recommended with Extreme Caution. Boxing trainer reluctantly trains an eager young woman to be a champion boxer. This movie will most likely win the Oscar for best picture of 2004, even though The Passion deserves it far more. It is a brilliant work of passion and heart. Even though I abhor it’s worldview, it provides much to think about in terms of the harsh realities of life and the search for redemption. The problem is that I think Clint Eastwood, does not believe redemption can be found in this world. First, Mystic River, now Million Dollar Baby and others of his movies (Unforgiven) seem to communicate a despairing nihilistic worldview. Let me explain. This movie is basically a brilliant incarnation of the “quality of life” argument for euthanasia. Thirty years too old, Hillbilly girl with passion to be a champion boxer enlists Eastwood’s character to train her. Trouble is, he doesn’t want to work with “girlies.” And he’s a man with a bitter past struggling with God to understand. The boxer is played by Hillary Swank, who is superb here, in the girl who is terrible and without training, but is so determined that she persuades Clint to train her. Brilliant supporting role by Morgan Freeman as Clint’s right hand man, who also has his failures to overcome. The girl boxes her way to the top in no time, virtually knocking out everyone along the way. But Clint’s motto is repeated over and over, “Always protect yourself.” And so he does throughout his boxing training and life. And that’s why he loses boxers because he holds them back, trying to protect them, rather than letting them reach for the stars and fumble a bit. For years, he writes letters every week to his estranged daughter who returns them all for what he did to her in the past. So he finds the opportunity to find a daughter in Hillary. And Hillary suffers from rejection by her hillbilly white trash family who doesn’t give a damn about her. Her father ran off when she was a kid, so she looks to Clint as a father figure to replace her dad that she never had. It’s incredibly moving and powerful. Morgan is a fighter, who represents the ghost that haunts Clint. Clint had managed Morgan as a young boxer. One fight, Morgan was cut badly but wanted to keep going. Clint didn’t want him to, but let him. And Morgan ended up losing and losing the sight in his eye because of this. Now, he works for Clint in a sweaty gym. This is why Clint will no longer let go of his fighters, because he feels guilty for doing so in the past and now must overcome that guilt by letting Hillary seek the championship. Trouble is, Hillary gets to the top, but then is hit from behind by a dirty trick and she falls and breaks her neck, rendering her a quadrapolegic on the level of a Christopher Reeves. So the rest of the movie is the struggle with Clint’s guilt over this pain again and whether or not he will kill her as she asks him to. After living the dream she had, she feels no life in this existence and wants to die. He ends up killing her with an injection of adrenaline and taking her breathing tube out. Then he disappears into the backwoods. The whole emotional power of this film is to create a life that has real hope and energy and exciting dreams in the boxing girl, so when we see her paralysis, we can feel the tremendous loss of hope and value in a life lived to the fullest of one’s dreams and hopes. We feel the extremity of the loss of quality of life, so that we may sympathize with the belief in euthanasia as a justified act. This movie reminded me of Cider House Rules. Both movies make arguments for controversial deeds, by incarnating the best emotional argument for it in a powerful story. This shows the power of story like nothing else. Cider House Rules incarnated the incest argument for abortion, and Million Dollar Baby incarnates the quality of life argument for euthanasia. And I must say, it is very powerful, no matter how false it is. The worldview of this film is humanistic and nihilistic. Clint seeks God for answers throughout the movie, which is fair and honest, but when confronted by the priest that euthanasia is murder and a sin, he finally gives up on God and walks away in order to kill his beloved Hillary. So God has nothing valuable to say about the meaning of life, because God supposedly doesn’t have a good answer for this. Well, too bad they don’t know Joni Erickson Tada. That’s the story that counters this one. Where a woman is a quad, but finds God through the suffering that wakes her up to what is really most valuable in life. Joni’s story is the one we really need to hear. Of course, this is just way too easy to SAY with WORDS, and the fact is, I totally empathize with the desire to die as a quad. But that doesn’t make it right. I am just saying that the truth is not determined by our feelings, and sometimes the truth and life is not fun or good to us. But none of this justifies murder. It is one thing to stop “extraordinary means” of life support, but quite another to inject someone with an overdose of adrenaline or morphine. One is letting a person die, the other is killing them. Unfortunately, Clint does both and is therefore guilty of murder. Another problem is that they set up the Hillary character as a fighter who fights her way out of poverty and white trash only to give up when she faces the biggest match of her life? Not consistent with the character they set up in Hillary. It says that she ultimately failed cause she gave up. She tossed in the towel, which makes it unsatisfying as a story. She doesn’t win the final fight, she gives up. That is a failure of character. This humanistic worldview conceives of a universe in which there is no ultimate good, only a choice between the lesser of two evils, killing someone you love to release them or allowing them to suffer because you don’t have the guts to kill them. But either way, life is miserable with no good option. In reality, there are other options. And Joni is a perfect example of this, of a woman who wouldn’t give up the fight. Clint never regains his actual daughter and loses the one hope of a daughter replacement, and ends in hiding all alone. Morgan gets a lonely gym, and Hillary dies – but, hey, she has the experience of seeking her dreams. Her request is that with each day, “they are taking away” the sounds of the cheering and the crowds and her importance. “They were chanting for me. I was in magazines.” This is so sad to me that we find our value in life in glory and personal ambition rather than knowing our Creator. Well, I would agree that there are some choices in life that are not black and white, but this is hopelessness and despair to give up on life in the name of blocked goals or desires. Who are we to define a life not worthy to be lived? If I can’t get what I want, then I should be able to die? Says who? Who died and left us God? Well, this is all academic arguing for me. The fact is, I have lived for far too long in a world of “argumentation.” A world of rationality and logic with little experience of such misery and pain. So, the fact is, I think I would rather truly share the pain of a person suffering than seek to find my first opportunity to launch into my carefully crafted abstract logical argument about God’s sovereignty, true though this is. I think it is really valuable to see this movie and really experience the heart of an argument like this, because it isn’t mere logic that satisfies the burning desire for meaning and truth. I am not denying logic or devaluing rationality. I am merely saying that for too long I have elevated reason to a godlike status, but have been able to do so only from a privileged position of not having to actually experience the real pain about which I often argue. I don’t think truth is determined by experience and I don’t think lack of experience disqualifies rational truth, but I do think lack of experience requires me to shut up and listen more readily before rattling off my string of logical abstract arguments unconnected to any real suffering. I want to suffer with those who suffer and cry with those who cry, not just spew out mental abstractions. This movie helps me to care more, makes me want to care more, even if I disagree with its philosophy. But having said that we should have an empathy for such suffering in life, let us not be deceived. To attempt to prove that some lives are “unworthy to be lived” as the Nazi booklet on eugenics tried to prove in the 1930s, is an atrocity. In my research lately, I discovered that the Nazi eugenics program and its sterilization laws in the 1930s were based upon American eugenics laws in the 1920s. Yes, those “scientific” Social Darwinists, among whom was the nefarious Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, who ruled in the Buck v. Bell case that “three generations of imbeciles was enough” so they sterilized thousands and thousands of the “feeble-minded” (mentally retarded) and other “unfit” members of society – and all in the name of Darwin, I might add. How’s that for a Crusade? Yes, it is a fact, people: Ideas have consequences. And if you believe morality is a social construct for survival, then you will end up justifying killing those who you don’t like (such as Jews and Christians). What chills me to the bone is knowing that the mindless youth of today, who are literally manipulated by their postmodern culture of pure image and entertainment, are the ones who will be euthanizing me in my later years. Oh, yeah, one other thing, WAY TOO MUCH NARRATION. Clint, please, lay off the heavy handed telling us everything with words.

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