“million dollar baby”

“million dollar baby”

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!

2 thoughts on ““million dollar baby”

  1. Yes. I had the same reaction and was left with the same questions at the end of the movie (indeed, my questions about Maggie’s choice were heightened by the discussion of her seeking further education, which occurred immediately prior to her request to Frank).

    I also believe that the movie identified Maggie’s loss as a loss of opportunities for which she had the potential. Not meaning to minimize the severity or tragedy of her circumstance, it did not seem like the movie emphasized the physical pain she might be experiencing as the basis for her request and Frank’s actions. Sadly, therefore, it looks as if Maggie’s dilemma is based entirely on her (very real) disappointment that her life as a successful boxer will not come to pass.

    I, too, sensed that Maggie’s greatest triumph in the movie was her relationship with Frank, which continued and deepened as a result of her tragedy. I was disappointed that this gain seemed to be overshadowed by her loss.

    However, perhaps the fact that we’re discussing the movie means that the correctness of Frank’s/Maggie’s was not as clear-cut as it first seemed. Maybe the movie did not intend an endorsement of the decision.

  2. I’m slow getting back to this. First, I had to see the movie (inspired by this entry) and then had to let it “sit” a while. I don’t disagree with anything you said but I think that, in part, that’s what the movie was saying to us.

    It’s a classic tragedy. Neither Maggie nor Frankie, in spite of his compulsive church going, REALLY knew God. (His priest clearly recognized that.) So it was not surprising that they could not rely on Him at the end.

    The other thing that saddened me in thinking about the end is that the options that you or I would see weren’t visible, perhaps not even conceivable, to Maggie. She repeatedly said, throughout the movie, that the only time she ever felt good about herself was when she was fighting.

    Trying to put her decision in context, I saw another example of class division (as we are seeing now a month later with the uneven, apparently class-divided, impact of a hurricane). Things that I would hope to embrace in such a situation – reading, learning, music, relationship, love – were totally unknown to Maggie. She could not even imagine what “else” might be out there. Life, as SHE understood it, had indeed come to an end.

    And that’s sad.

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