My daughter’s boyfriend had us all watch “Million Dollar Baby” the other night. It was a good movie — well-made, engrossing, creative, understated. It conveyed powerful emotions with spare action and spare dialogue. I enjoyed watching the movie — and I am no fan of boxing — but I didn’t like the ending.
WARNING: STOP READING NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE AND DON’T WANT ME TO SPOIL IT FOR YOU!
What does give a life value?
When is suffering no longer redemptive or no longer redeemable?
When is a life no longer worth living?
I grant that I know nothing of what it is like to be in a body like Maggie’s … a body useless and wasting away. And I know nothing of being in Frankie’s position … seeing the one I dearly love in that powerless and humiliating state. But suicide for the one, assisting suicide for the other, seem too easy and even selfish. The movie creates a great deal of sympathy for that choice, paints it as a redemptive choice — letting Maggie “go out” while she has it all, instead of letting her linger and lose everything.
But what is the “everything” she risks losing? Her success, the achievement of her life’s dream? But it seems to me that the most valuable thing she gains in the course of the film is Frankie’s love. She gains a father. He gains a daughter. He grieves because she asks him to let her go. But is it not this love itself that gives her life value? That love continues, loving her always and still as she is … forever. Loving her because she is.
And that is what God’s love is like, too. Loving us as we are, just because we are. At her best, Maggie showed the strength and beauty of her spirit, her loyalty, her faith … turning down a contract with a rival manager to stay with Frank, turning away her heartless and greed-crazed family members, not letting herself be consumed with self-pity.
Would it not be fitting if Maggie’s final act of strength and beauty and loyalty and faith were to entrust herself to God — as long as she has breath, to allow Frankie to love her and be loved by her — to live in joy even in the presence of suffering for both of them, to live with courage and will and hope in the face of her greatest challenger?
As I watched the movie, I too was filled with grief at her loss, at our loss of her grace and fire and passionate physicality. But I wanted her to live, to win this last fight, not concede, to reveal to us the real depth and strength of her character. And I wanted Frankie to say “No” and stand by it, to tell her that her life was still valuable, that he loved her and that love made her life valuable, that she has not lost and will not lose anything that matters!