Observing the Formulas

It took me a while to see "Million Dollar Baby," the Clint Eastwood movie nominated for seven Academy Awards, but it was worth the wait. The film is a beautiful example of why tried-and-true formulas are ... well, tried and true. This isn't faint praise. Every art has its formulas, and success depends on what a given artist does with them. In this case, Eastwood takes a venerable formula - the boxing flick in which the contender's hardest fight is outside the ring - and burnishes it to a rich, glowing patina.

Of course, that's not all Eastwood does. It's impossible to prove a negative, but I suspect that if the contender in question were a young man from the white-trash side of the tracks, the critics would have dismissed the film as (you guessed it) formulaic. By making his star a young woman, Maggie (Hilary Swank) Eastwood makes plenty of room for all that burnishing.

Recently several talk-radio "conservatives" have accused "Million Dollar Baby" of being an advertisement for euthanasia. What can I say to this, except: Come on, guys. Look at the blinking movie.

Frankie, the burnt-out trainer played by Eastwood, is the sort of Catholic who attends mass every day in order to ventilate his doubts with Father Horvak (Bryan O'Byrne). When Maggie is paralyzed by a dirty punch and begs Frankie to disconnect her life support, Frankie asks Father Horvak what to do. The priest tells him (very sympathetically, I might add) that euthanasia is a sin. And Frankie obeys, refusing Maggie's pleas.

But then Maggie starts biting her own tongue in a desperate attempt to drown in her own blood. At that point Frankie does the deed. But not in the spirit of Dr. Kervorkian liberating another paying customer. Rather he does it in the spirit of a stoic, self-punishing man sacrificing his own soul for that of another. Maybe God will forgive him, maybe not. You get the feeling he is willing to take the chance. And despite the wistful closing lines by his old friend Scrap (Morgan Freeman), there is no happy ending. After Frankie disconnects Maggie, he disconnects himself - from everything and everyone he has ever known. He disappears.

What sort of standard are these "conservatives" using, I wonder? If artists are not allowed to show troubled mortals committing mortal sins out of love, then talk radio has a long list of artists to condemn. How about starting with some of the worst offenders, like Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dostoevsky...?

February 11, 2005 5:30 AM |



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This page contains a single entry by published on February 11, 2005 5:30 AM.

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