Monday, April 04, 2005

[Movie review] Million Dollar Crap!

I went to see Million Dollar Baby on the basis of its oscar winning feat and also because of the controversies it has stirred up. One one side it has been praised very highly as an excellent movie and on the other it has been at the receiving end of handicapped activists who do not agree with the film's ultimate ending.
The trailers promised a well-directed movie but there were a lot of issues that turned up even in the trailers. Glorification of boxing on screen is not new. The Rockys of the 80s and 90s have done that for some time now. People enjoy brutality and like to see people going at eachother with animal ferocity. A film that glorifies a brutal sport such as boxing cannot be expected to be about peace, can it? (Unless you are talking about Ali!)
The second thing I noticed about the trailers was that the movie seemed to be of the opinion that for a woman to be anything other than trash, she needs to be a masculine, brutal, single-minded competitor and her femininity is a barrier to success. "girlie, tough aint enough"?
The third thing I noticed in the trailers was the emphasis on the christian way of life. The images of Eastwood kneeling in prayer near his bed and "the only person who comes to mass that long is one who cannot forgive himself for some reason." While, I do not mind religious elements on screen, Hollywood movies with such stress on Christianity tend to be tailored for their "Jesusland" viewers and thus, in general, conservative and anti-liberal.

I still went to watch this movie as I really did not want to miss an oscar-winning movie. Plus, I loved Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry which I think was one of the best pieces of acting on screen ever. Another major reason for seeing this movie was that I had nothing to do on a saturday afternoon!
I found this movie problematic on many counts. One of the major issur I have always had with Clint Eastwood movies is the treatment of his female characters. In all his movies, females have always played a secondary, dependent and dummy-like roles. In this one, we see a repeat of this all over again.
"Wait, isn't the main character a female?"
Oh, yes, she is in the sense that she is a woman by sex. But feminine, she is not. right from the start to finish, she is masculine. Whether it is in embarassing someone in the gym for teasing her for being female or her ruthless mannerisms in the ring, there is a lack of feminine characteristics that give the message that for a woman to be anything other than trash, she needs to be masculine. All the rest of the female characters are shown to be insensitive and downright leaches on society. Whether it is the daughter of Frankie (Eastwood) who returns all the letters her father sends her or Maggie's (Swank) mother who is more worried about losing about her welfare and who tries to get Maggie to sign over her assets to herself after she is bedridden or Maggie's knocked up sister whose boyfriend is in jail and is apathic to Maggie's success, they are all shown as despicable characters who cannot be sympathised with. Katie, Frankie's daughter, is completely silenced as she is never shown on screen or given space for her views on her father. Maggie's sister is also silent in words but her actions speak of her selfish and leachish nature. I suppose it was to be expected in an Eastwood movie, Eastwood being symbolic of masculinity immortalised by the 'Dollar' movies.
The film glorifies boxing in such a deluge of views of opinions from Frankie and Eddie (Morgan Freeman), who is also the narrator of the film.
"If there's magic in boxing is the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you. "
" everything in boxing is backwards"

I can never accept boxing as a sport. It is brutal, inhuman and designed to suit the needs of a bloodthirsty, sadistic audience that craves for more and more punches to be thrown, noses to be broken and tooths knocked out. The fighters are modern gladiators, except now they do not beat eachother to death but give them such disabilities as Pugilistic Parkinson's disease. It feeds on the human innate tendency towards violence. Society frowns on violence as being bestial but it legitimizes and deitifies violence in the boxing ring...
The depiction of Maggie's mom is very telling of the political situation in the US. At a time when Bush is cutting spending on social welfare and cutting taxes for the rich, this film's depiction of Americans dependent on Welfare as leaches makes me suspect its intentions. Well, I suppose it is true that there are people who remain unemployed so as to get free lunches through the welfare system and a representation of such a character could be accepted but it looks quite suspect amidst all the conservative stereotypes that the movie reinforces and promotes.
Amidst all these conservative ideas of the movie, how could the issue of God be left? There is a strong religious flavour to the movie that you cannot miss even with eyes closed and a dormant mind. There are scenes with Frankie praying to God, chatting with the local priest about God along with religious advise. "If you do this, you will be lost for ever."
The final twist in the movie is when Frankie helps Maggie to commit euthanasia. The reasoning being that "I think I did alright!" and that there is nothing left to live for. There has been a lot of protests over this ending of the movie which has been pointed out as promoting murder of disabled people. I think the criticism is a little harsh in this respect. I suppose one must respect the wishes of a person who wants to end his/her life rather than living as a vegetable. I can live with this ending. But peeves me is the amount of "pro-life" noise being made about the Terri Schiavo case (she has been living as a vegetable for a decade and recently, her husband got a court order approving taking her off life-support) in the same country where this movie, which seemingly approves euthanasia, garners box-office success and critical acclaim along with a bunch of pretty little men!
In spite of all its faults, the film makes for good viewing. Reasons? Great acting, good direction, and some good dialogues. The socks conversation between Eddie and Frankie is one of the best exchanges I have seen on screen for some time. Hillary Swank is amazing as a determined female boxer whose fervent wish is to alleviate her "trash" status.
I suppose you should watch this movie but do it with a pinch of salt and a clear mind.

1 comment:

Vikram said...

Just a small comment about euthanasia. The ending of the movie might involve euthanasia, since Frankie not only removes the ventilator but also injects adrenaline to make sure that Maggie dies soon. However, in the strict sense of the word Terri Schiavo's case does not involve euthanasia.

The distinction is in the passivity of the act. While the movie involves an active act of ending the life of the patient, in Terri's case all that was done was to simply discontinue medical help by removing life support. This is not the same as mercy killing, which would have rather involved seeking medical help to end the life of the patient. That was why she was just left to starve to death, instead of giving her a painless lethal injection. And although such form of "passive euthanasia" is legal in the US, actual euthanasia is illegal. That is why the courts were able to rule in favour of removing life support. Euthanasia (which is equated to active euthanasia) apparently is legal only in two countries of the world (Netherlands and Belgium). By the way, in both cases consent of the patient is important, otherwise it would be tantamount to murder.

The issue of whether to distinguish between active and passive euthanasia is a different one. The advocates of passive euthanasia (which is not really regarded as euthanasia) and conservative groups argue that we should interfere with nature, especially where life is concerned. This is also reflected in their stand against abortion, for instance. Their argument is that when it comes to matter of life and death, we should let nature take the matter under its control. It originally seemed to me that the distinction between active and passive euthanasia is just a fine line, but the above argument (given to me by one of my friends) indicates that there is actually a qualitative difference. Whether this difference should be focused on is yet another issue, but I choose not to go into that now.

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