THEME: Beauty & Affliction
Every once in awhile a movie comes along that haunts you. You don't simply watch it and forget it; no, something about it stays with you lingering like smoke in a room. You'll be going about your daily affairs, and suddenly you catch a "whiff", and there it is filling your conscious thoughts. Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby is one of those films, and there are reasons why this movie is so powerful and so haunting. Simone Weil says that there are two things that pierce the human heart...Beauty and Affliction. This movie is a double-edged sword.
The beauty of this film is not the external visual world it presents, actually that is quite ugly and dull. No, the beauty is found in a person, Maggie Fitzgerald, and the relationship that Maggie develops with her trainer, Frankie Dunn. For two-thirds of the movie, beauty triumphs over evil. It does so with four powerful weapons - sacrifice, humility, friendship, and words.1
The beauty of Maggie is her childlike heart and her innocent belief that Frankie Dunn can make her into something more than "trailer trash". For this she is willing to make any sacrifice, pay any price. The sign that she practices under, "Winners are simply willing to do what losers won't", is there for Maggie. She is a winner. Her humility is not meekness or weakness, as some would define humility. Indeed, her physical strength is a sign of what humility really is - great strength under great control.
The devotion and love she shows to Frankie Dunn are what change his heart and release him from the crusty ill-tempered man we see at the beginning to become the tender-hearted poet we see at the end. Their friendship is so powerful because it is a redemptive friendship. Maggie becomes Frankie's long lost Katie, and Frankie becomes Maggie's deceased daddy. The broken places in each heart caused by a lost love are now restored in a new relationship. Nothing could signify this more than the powerful new name (words) Frankie gives to Maggie - Mo Cuisle.
Like a boxer dancing around an opponent, the movie dances with our hearts touching us deeply with scene after scene of sacrifice, humility, friendship, and powerful words. The winners do things the losers simply won't do. Maggie buys a house for her despicable mother. Frankie writes letters to a daughter who won't read them. One-eyed Scrap puts on a single glove and beats a young punk, and Danger returns to the gym. We really want the winners to win and the losers to lose. We are ringside, so to speak, yelling and cheering when the movie takes a fatal turn.
Note: If you do not want to know how this movie ends, stop reading.
The bad part of the film's ending is not the dirty punch that The Blue Bear gives to Maggie, that should be expected from the one who is obviously the devil figure in this film. The bad part is where the movie goes after Maggie is hit and paralyzed. The scenes of Maggie's attempted suicide and Frankie's "mercy killing" are so jarring because they communicate powerful lies that the modern world has come to accept as truth.
A human being is no different than an animal, just more evolved. Maggie wants to be shot like Axel.
All of "life" is here in this world. Maggie says, "I've had it all."
Heaven is a gray place like Ira's Roadside Diner where they serve real lemon meringue pie, Frankie sits there all alone.
The reason this movie is so haunting is because it leaves us in the affliction; there is no redemption, no grand restoration, no happily ever after. The Book of Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Deep within every human being is the knowledge of a much Larger Story2. One that begins in Beauty (Creation), descends into Affliction (The Fall), yet does not abandon us there. It is the Story of God's redeeming love. A love that always triumphs over evil because of sacrifice, humility, friendship, and the The Word. (Philippians 2:5-11).
Four weapons against evil originate with Peter Kreeft.
For a short, but excellent treatment of the Larger Story read Epic by John Eldredge.