Monday, August 28, 2017

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

This weekend I watched "Million Dollar Baby" on Amazon Prime. God knows how many times I had seen it before, but it was a renewed pleasure to see it again.

Without giving too much away, the story is about a 31-year-old white woman named Maggie (Hilary Swank). One day she comes to a boxing gym owned by Frankie (Clint Eastwood). She persistently asks Frankie to train her, saying that she wants to box seriously. He refuses flatly because he thinks she's too old, plus he doesn't believe in women boxers. But when Frankie hears about Maggies plight centering around her dysfunctional family with father who died when she was still young, and 145 kg mother who has been on welfare for years and a sister with a baby who is married to a husband who is in jail, he finally consents to training her, on the condition that she should never ask questions and that she always say, "Yes, Frankie." Maggie improves quickly, and once she starts fighting matches, she keeps on beating her opponents on after another until she was offered a title world title match. The champion is not only tough and aggressive, but also fights dirty. In Round 4 of the title match she punches Maggie on her blind side while the referee isn't looking, and Maggie is sent falling, her neck hitting the lying chair on her corner. She breaks her neck and becomes paralyzed for life. Without even the ability to breathe on her own, an oxygen pipe is connected to her throat, and Maggie is in a state of passive euthanasia. While she is hospitalized, Frankie comes to see her almost everyday. Although it is never told in the movie, Frankie is estranged from his own daughter. He goes to church every single day, and through his few exchanges with the priest, it is hinted that he has a sense of guilt deep in his mind, the nature of which is never told after all. Meanwhile, her obese mother visits her hospital one day with Maggie's married sister and her husband now out of jail, and a lawyer. She suggests that Maggie should sign a paper to allow her to take care of all of Maggie's assets now that she is disabled and incapable of doing it herself. Stunned by her own mother's shamelessness, Maggie finally realizes that she has been unhealthily attached to people who care about nobody but themselves, and also that it is time to disconnect her relationship with them once and for all. With emotional connection to her family lost, what she has left is her brief glory as a boxer. Sleeping in bed, she has dreamed of her audience shouting her name and this Gaelic phrase that is printed on her gown that says, “Mo cuishle.” Convinced that these are the best moments and best memories of her life, she wants to end her life before they are taken away from her. Maggie asks Frankie to let her die by disconnecting the oxygen pipe. He says he can’t. Later Frankie tells Father about his conflict, but Father simply tells Frankie to let the Lord take care of it. That night, though, Maggie tries to solve the problem by herself. She bits her tongue, trying to die from bleeding. Doctors stitches up her tongue, but she tries again, so now the doctors cover up her tongue to keep her from doing it. “Which is right?” Frankie struggles. Let her live like this, in a passive state of euthanasia, like Father says, or take her life away as she pleas? One night entering her bed room, unnoticed, Frankie bends over Maggie and whispers to her the meaning of “Mo cuishle”. Maggie smiles a faint smile, and as she does so, a tear runs down her cheek.

The movie got me thinking about a lot of things, one of which is biological parenthood vs human bond developed through working together for a purpose. The relationship between Maggie and her mother is biological, but it is dysfunctional. That between Frankie and Maggie is only social and not biological, but it is need-fulfilling. When one is born, one cannot choose one’s own mother or father. What if they are destructive, and irresponsible? Naturally, one’s life is significantly affected while one is still small and helpless. But should it continue to be affected even after one grows independent financially? Should her happiness be determined by what kind of parents she is born into? “Million Dollar Baby” seems to give us viewers an answer.

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