Friday, February 11, 2005

MILLION DOLLAR REVISITATION

A reader of this blog, Nick, sent me a long detailed and different reading of the Eastwood film now up for Oscar glory. Nick saw a different film than I did, but some of his points are well-taken.

He said I could post his message.

Hi Barb--

The Gospel can be spread in so many ways, and great art is art that can be discovered, rediscovered, and reinterpreted.

I found this to be the case with ... *sigh*... Million Dollar Baby. Believe me, I'm shocked as I write this. When I saw the film a few nights ago (being completely spoiled in advance, and knowing where the film was headed), I was on the fast track in searching for clues for Eastwood/FX Toole's/Haggis' agenda. I didn't expect to be spiritually blown away.

I agree that this is film that can have a pro-euthenasia agenda at the story-level. I will also agree that the film, when taken at merely the story-level, is clumsily put together, with unrealistic characters and circumstances. However, when I caught this film, I was struck with an altogether more positive Catholic-Christian interpretation, that works solely at the allegorical level.

It is at this level that is so deep, so profound, so touching, that it all but overshadows and answers the whole euthenasia angle. This isn't at all like The Cider House Rules--which built its case up so that it can make a forceful argument towards the "goodness of abortion." M$B is, IMO, far more concerned with deeper issues.

For me, the key scene was in the beginning, where Frankie debates Fr. Horvac on the nature of the Trinity. If we're to believe that a movie such as this that there are no wasted scenes, then at the story-level, this scene is a contradiction. It has no reason to be there. It goes on too long. Fr. Horvac's explanation is actually shaky and not entirely correct. But the one thing that's important is that the Trinity is three distinct persons, and yet they're all one.

In much the same way, I found Million Dollar Baby to be about three distinct relationships, and yet they are all related: Frankie/Maggie, Fr. Horvac/Frankie, and Scrap/Danger. The first two relationships are meticulously crafted and are similar in many ways, and the third relationship provides a noted point of contrast.

When I saw Fr. Horvac throw the f-bomb, it was a hint to me that this was not merely a priest, but a mirror image of Frankie himself. Fr Horvac belittles Frankie's faith in much the same manner where Frankie himself belittles Maggie's boxing skills. Over and again, both ways.

Fr Horvac derides Frankie for going to Mass for twenty-three years but never really knowing the basics out of a first-grade education. In the same way, Maggie has practiced boxing for many years but Frankie derides her for never getting the basics right.

Fr. Horvac (if he was a pre-Vatican II priest) would read in a foreign language and provide confession/absolution for those who would venture out into the world. Frankie reads in a foreign language (Gaelic) and cleans up his boxers before they venture back into the ring. Scrap reiterates in his narration, that boxing is a metaphor for life.

Fr. Horvac goes from being antagonistic to Frankie to finally sitting with him and giving him counsel, due to Frankie's continued badgering. Frankie goes from being antagonistic to Maggie to finally training him (due to Maggie's continued badgering). In the counseling scene, Fr. Horvac warns Frankie sternly to not assist in Maggie's final wishes--stating that they would lead to spiritual death. In the scene right before, Frankie is stern not to assist in Maggie's final wishes, because it would lead to death. Scrap, in narration, indicates that in boxing, sometimes when one feels pain, he steps into it.

The contrast to all this is the relationship between Scrap and Danger. Danger is completely useless in the gym, and oblivious to this fact. Yet, Scrap keeps him around, even not collecting any of his dues. Danger actually foretells Maggie's fall more vividly than anything else in the film--he is beaten up and disappears. Maggie is beaten badly, and later, Frankie disappears. But... here's the interesting thing: it is Danger who provides FX Toole's/Haggis'/Eastwood's answer to the euthenasia scene--he reappears after Eastwood disappears. He states that every winner loses once in a while, and thus keeps on going. Scrap reiterates this very line, word-for-word. Whenever a line is repeated like that, that is what the filmmakers are really trying to say.

How does this relate to Maggie (who's dead) and Frankie (who's lost and can never come back, according to the priest)? It certainly doesn't make sense on the story-level. At the deeper level, it makes a world of difference. Maggie is an archetype of a fulfillment of God's will for us, whether we are looking for it or not. Maggie pursues Frankie, calls him "the boss" in that he would always have final say, but it is Frankie's destiny to help train Maggie, in much the same manner that sometimes God's plans for us are sometimes what we don't want to do, but He's persistant, and we can't ignore that. Fr. Horvac is an archetype of the LAW. Scrap is an archetype of GRACE. And Frankie is us--world-weary, seen it all, takes a chance on God's will for him, it goes wonderful (actually TOO wonderful--Maggie's quick turnaround and consecutive knockouts are a sign that this isn't a story to be taken for real), until that dream has ran its course (in Frankie's eyes), and he let his dream, his fulfillment of God's plan for him, die (instead of what he should have done, kept it alive). And while, by the standards of the Law, Frankie is estranged, by the merits of Grace, Frankie still has a chance of coming back, just as Danger did.

I found that Scrap showed up at inopportune moments, sometimes hanging in the shadows. Certainly there was absolutely no reason that Scrap was hanging around the hospital when Frankie arrives, unseen by anyone else, and so easily puts Maggie to death (too easily--another sign this is not to be taken at face value). Certainly Scrap does not approve (look at his eyes). And yet Scrap is the most giving character in the film. When I listened to the narration, I realized that there was absolutely no way that the whole narration would be in that letter to Frankie's estranged daughter--too much of it has nothing to do with her, or Frankie, but about boxing (and life). The narration of the letter to Frankie's daughter actually starts when that very scene begins. And he doesn't do it to share how great Frankie is, but because he cannot help it--he loves, he wants to see them reunited. This is entirely consistent with his character throughout the film, always giving, always there, giving little hints to Frankie, never caring for himself (like buying new socks).

Anyway, I'm sure I've taken up too much of your time. I know that the analogy isn't perfect, but it surprised me how much meat there is beneath the surface. Thank you for listening.

God Bless,

Nick Alexander
http://www.nickalexander.com


[FROM BARB: I will respond to Nick hopefully later today. Thanks, Nick, for your analysis.]

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