Million Dollar Baby (2004) was film directed by Clint Eastwood. It relates to story of a woman who aspires to become a professional boxer. The film is well crafted and effective piece of popular art that takes a sympathetic and ultimately affirmative view of euthanasia. The film is troubling and a potentially, gravely harmful artifact of the culture of death. In a culture where quality of life is valued more than life itself and incapacitation is regarded as a fate worse than death, it may not be too much to say that people could die as a direct result of this film and others that portray euthanasia a humane and a choice.
Hilary Swank portrays Maggie, a working class waitress from the Ozarks of Missouri. Maggie is driven and determined to become a professional boxer despite being in her early thirties. Clint Eastwood plays gym owner and boxing trainer, Frankie Dunn. Frankie is a devout Catholic who attends mass daily. He is currently estranged from his only daughter who refuses contact with him. Morgan Freeman completes the cast as retired boxer, Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris. Scrap works for Frankie and is Frankie’s only friend.
When Frankie refuses to “train a girl”, Eddie takes Maggie under his tutelage and gives her some coaching. Frankie sees her talent and drive and decides to train and manage her. She quickly earns a reputation as a winner and knock out artist. After a string of wins in Los Angeles, Frankie and Maggie travel to Europe to continue her winning streak. The two bond emotionally, in part because she satisfies the need in him that has daughter has left. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Frankie arranges a title match. The opposing boxer is a German with a reputation for dirty fighting. During the bout, she sucker punches Maggie; in her fall, Maggie breaks her neck and is left a quadriplegic.
Frankie struggles with denial, anger and bargaining when trying to cope with this prognosis. She suffers an amputation, bedsores and wants to simply die. She has fulfilled her life’s dream. Her family, who were on welfare or in jail visit her; they want her to sign over her winnings to them. Maggie asks Frankie to help her end her life but he refuses. Ultimately, Frankie, despite his religious convictions and out of love ends her life.
Maggie’s mother is a two dimensional character that weighs over 300 pounds. She is a widow and on public assistance. Maggie’s mother is completely dependent financially, at one time on her and now Maggie. People who are morbidly obese are a burden on their families and their communities. They face increased health costs and care. In Maggie’s mother’s case, she is also not financially independent. Society places a stigma on people like Maggie’s mother; dependency and inability to help ones’ self are viewed negatively.
Maggie represents the true working hero. She works as waitress in a dive but is driven to improve her place in life; for Maggie it is to become a champion boxer. Maggie recognizes that she will never be a college graduate but she physically fit and driven.
When Maggie is injured, true tragedy is apparent. Becoming a paraplegic ends Maggie’s hopes and dreams. Her disability will render her dependent on strangers to care for her. The body she trained and developed will no longer carry her physically or emotionally. She will be viewed with pity by society.
Sports are built on athletes that train their bodies into perfect specimens required by their sport. In Maggie’s case her training led her to become and incredible boxer in a male dominated sport. Frankie and Scraps both tell her that boxing requires constant drilling because it is an unnatural sport and Maggie is willing to go to any lengths. Maggie choses this path because psychologically she does not want to end up like her mother, abandoned and dependent on the welfare of the state. Her injury leaves her in that same position, despite all of her diligence.
Sports and athletes exists in world separate from most humans. Millions of people participate in some sort of sports activities as children or as amateurs in their adult life but this leisurely participation is nothing compared to the serious or professional athlete. When professional athletes are gravely injured, as Maggie was, there is an immediate outpouring of sympathy and pity, but they have lost their luster as heroes.
Professional sports such as the NFL and NBA offer protection and insurance to their athletes. In the case of boxing, boxers work as independent contractors, as presented in the movie. They arrange for singular bouts, collect their winnings and move on. Maggie was at least prudent enough to purchase a home. For Maggie, and many other athletes, sports are their only road out of poverty and living in the lower stratum of society. The pure talent and refinement of their bodies are all they can aspire to.
Maggie’s decision to end her life is a pertinent one in our society today. The discussion of euthanasia and the right to take one’s life as Maggie did is illegal and considered by major religions as a sin. Opinions and laws will change slowly as society engages in more open discussion and are exposed to poignant and powerful movies such as Million Dollar Baby. The tragedy of Maggie, her family, her success and her life changing injury are a representation of what happens to many people in our society.