(There are an insane amount of spoilers ahead. The spoilers that come ahead will ruin the movie if you haven't seen it, so do not read this post if you haven't seen "Million Dollar Baby")
Aubrie linked to this article today about the film Million Dollar Baby. I saw the film two weeks ago, and haven't really figured out a good avenue by which to approach a review of the film. This won't be a typical review so much as a comment on one specific part of the film.
I had, unfortunately, heard that the film dealt with euthanasia before I went to see the movie. It severely dampened the effect the film would have had on me had I not known, but the film was still powerful.
In the above article, which argues that "Baby" is a form of liberal pedantics meant to humanize murder, the author, Maggie Gallagher, says this:
"Million Dollar Baby" portrays murder as the ultimate act of love, teaching us the crippled human being killed wants death, deserves death, is better off dead. How else to explain the look of almost sexual ecstasy on lovely Hillary Swank's face when Clint Eastwood finally agrees to kill her?
And it's not just Hollywood, of course -- audiences love the movie, too. I used to wonder how the Nazis readied normal Germans for legalized murder. Walking out of that dark movie theater, I don't wonder anymore.
First of all, this is sensationalistic garbage, but I'll address it.
The film does not portray murder as the ultimate act of love. Yes, it does portrays euthanasia as an end to the story arc of a particular character, but it does so with great deliberation, and with a proper due to the morality of the circumstance. It is very possible that Eastwood's character, after performing this act, requested by Swank's character, will never be the same again. He is filled with an inner anguish about this, and desperately does not want to take part.
This was not a film that portrayed euthanasia as putting to death a useless body. No, this film deals with the circumstance (something our society should do, when speaking to this issue). Swank's character has achieved so much more than she ever expected she could have, and certainly more than society would normally have allowed her to. There are two things that make this possible. The first his her tenacity. She is an old (by boxing terms) woman who would not be given a second look under normal circumstances. By stubbornness, and a work ethic that would rival most heavyweight champions, she hones her body into a machine that is rivaled by virtually no one at the time.
The time, by the way, is one of the things the film does brilliantly. It is set in modern times, but the cinematography, the set design, and the manner by which the characters go about there business could place this film in the 20's, 50's, 70's, or today. By creating a film with such a timelessness, Eastwood slyly puts us in a position of acknowledging that the issues he will present us with later in the film aren't new, and aren't unusual. This is simply one of those stories that happen.
The accident that paralyzes Swank takes the one thing she had that made her different, unique, and a champion away from her: her body. She had no luck, no chances, and no special favors payed to her along the way, but through her will, she made her body into something that could separate her from all others. When this is taken away, that which made her different was taken away.
This could just as easily be anything. If Hunter Thompson had a stroke and was unable to communicate, it would be the same. The things that set us apart and make us different and unique, once taken away, can effectively end our lives anyway, even while we are living.
But that isn't the point that "Baby" tries to make, either. The point it makes is that she achieved everything she could achieve. This wasn't a tragedy, ending a life before it began. She'd done what she could do and had become the best. She had no family but met the one person who she truly connected with in her life. At one point in the movie, driving back from a fight, Eastwood and Swank are in a car and she says "I ain't got no one else but you." The look they give each other borders on graciousness, love, sexuality, and connection. The subtlety which the two act with each other in the scene makes everything else work. You want to believe they have a connection before this point, but after it, you are forced to concede that he may very well know what is in her heart better than anyone else in the world.
So, when he kills her (and that is exactly what it is), he does it
not because she is useless for the rest of her life, but because she
has achieved all she could ever have hoped to achieve, and she knows
and he comes to accept that the rest of her life will be a slow decline
in which the greatness she achieved, achieved for herself internally,
will fade until it can barely be remembered. He allows her to take it
all with her, at her peak, with no looking back. If the look on her
face is one of sexual ecstasy, then Ms. Gallagher obviously needs to
watch a bit more porn (some really good porn would do the trick...
treat yourself sweetheart. You need to loosen up). The look on her
face can only be construed as one of absolute relief... of knowing that
her life was lived, and will now end, on her terms, and that her terms,
both in life and death, were dictated by the sheer force of her
goodwill and endurance.
Take care when comparing art to dictatorial mass genocide... But chances are, if you are making the comparison, you have missed the opportunity to explore the issues the art has put in front of you in the first place, and maybe an overdose of adrenaline would be the best thing for you too.