Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby: An Overwhelming Drama

Clint Eastwood He shot Million Dollar Baby (2004) when he was in his prime as a director. A year earlier, he had made another masterpiece, Mystic River, and in 2008, Gran Torino, which are my favorite movies along with The Bridges of Madison, Bird, and Unforgiven. And it is that, once again, Eastwood knew how to choose a good story, based on the stories of boxing trainer FX Toole, and supported by the excellent screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah). In addition, in the interpretive part, to the powerful personality of the director himself, in one of his most subtle works, we must add that of Morgan Freemanand the absolutely emotional performance of Hillary Swank. In the direction, photography shines and a perfectly sustained rhythm that, through the display of many miseries, advances towards the fateful. All these great virtues can with an important defect become residual here, that of excessive Manichaeism in some secondary characters.

The look we have is that of Eddie Scrap (Morgan Freeman), through the story that his voice recounts in off. This mature man, who lives ascetically, in a sad section of the gym, is, of course, a former boxer, someone who lost an eye, and who now treats his tenacious successors with a fair and sensitive look. The owner of the gym is his friend Frankie (Clint Eastwood), a man between tough and sensitive, a bit in the Bogartian way. Maggie is a girl who has been working as a waitress since she was almost a child, and whose dream is to succeed in boxing. Therefore, she saves to pay for the gym and buy the equipment. Therefore, she must take the leftovers from her clients home, to satisfy her hunger without having to spend money on it.

As we enter the atmosphere of this story, we perceive a growing suffocation, that of being led down a tunnel from which we know we will not emerge unscathed. There is a lot of vulnerability in the characters. The compassionate look is evident in the approach to that young man, named Danger, who, in his intellectual narrowness, insists on going to the gym every day with an illusory expectation. And also, of course, in the figure of the protagonist, that young —but already a bit old for boxing— Maggie, who tries to flee as far as possible from the misery that has always followed her (“I grew up knowing that I was worthless”) , embracing that path that calls her so much and on which she is not interested in realizing its risks, or the intrinsic moral contradiction that derives from an activity in which, to be good, one has to seriously harm his opponent. “How is the girl?” Maggie will ask Frankie, her trainer, after a match. “She has a concussion and a broken eardrum,” he will answer. And she, in her goodness, will tell him: “She will be fine!” “And if she wasn’t like that?” “Maybe she should send him something.”

The story is overwhelming from the start. The main characters carry the pain of lives in which they have made mistakes or have suffered wrongdoing. Frankie’s is that of not being able to reconcile with her daughter Katie, who, week after week, returns the letters with which he intends to win her back. He has lost the love and closeness of his daughter for some fact that will never be explained to us. What we do know is her insistence on his request for her forgiveness, her unyielding rancor. Eddie, on the other hand, lives apart from any joyful expectation or desire, secluded in his miserable windowless room in the gym, but trying to turn the damage that life has inflicted on him into empathy and justice towards the fighters.

Maggie longs for her dead father, the only one in the family who loved her, the only one she could look up to. This coincidence of circumstances brings her and Frankie closer to each other in a relationship that has a lot to do with paternal filial. But this approximation is not carried out, far from it, at the same pace. It is Maggie who insists that he be her coach, and it is he who, before the censorious look of her friend Eddie of hers, repeatedly refuses her. Little by little, her tenacity works the first phase of her dream, that of being groomed by him. But he, until the end, will resist taking her as a student. He several times he will send her to other colleagues, but she, stubborn, will despise them. She is very frank, she later, she will confess to him: “I only have you, Frankie.” He, only at the end, will recognize her as a substitute for her daughter.

The boxing world is seedy. Frankie has to deal with a lot of mischief from managers and coaches. He has to live up to it, if only as a professional obligation. Eddie is the great observer, the one who imparts a sober affection and, if necessary, who gives a violent lesson to those who are far from knowing the value of living in a moral way. Both are surrounded by aspiring boxers who live in poverty and have a slim chance of getting out of it and every chance of sustaining the injuries that fierce fighting promotes. Freeman doesn’t charge Peligro, he allows Maggie—against Frankie’s will—to train after hours at the gym. The film perfectly portrays that area of ​​misery and harshness. As Eddie defines it in his story, boxing is: “The magic of risking everything for a dream that no one sees but you.” Here we have an overview of the psychology of some aspiring boxers, of some men and a woman mired in their stubbornness. When Maggie later asks Frankie what he’ll do when he quits boxing, he tells her, “I’ll never quit, I like the smell of him too much.”

Frankie’s relationship with Eddie is one of deep friendship that is expressed with enormous clumsiness. There are no frank or direct dialogues between the two, but rather the detours that the timid undertake and that often lead to expressions contradictory to feelings. They are two armored men, who do not dare to express their intimate goodness. There is a fraternity in them that they hardly recognize, because it is painful for them, because the defeat of each one becomes evident in the reflection of the other.

Maggie is winning fights, all by KO. In her head is the moment that she should not delay, that of a truly glorious fight, in the fight for a world title. She is earning a lot of money and with it she buys a house for her mother. But she is, she doesn’t thank him, but she reproaches him, because she is afraid of losing state welfare. It’s clear that she doesn’t love her, nor does her sister-in-law, and, as we’ll see later, her brother, fresh out of jail. It is a family of parasites, of ingrates, of people who, with their words, with their gestures, do the evil that corrodes them, because they have not tried to turn around and get rid of it. They don’t know or want to love, just wallow in the mud of his disgusting selfishness. It could be the portrait of the beings of poverty, but Maggie has also belonged to that area of ​​misery, and it is not exactly like that, quite the opposite.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, I just want to prevent you from doing the same,” Frankie tells Maggie. But, after her rising success, comes the abrupt end. In their title match, her opponent, famous for dirty fighting, shows her notoriety in the worst way. An illegal blow, totally out of time, knocks down her opponent, in such a way that he falls, fatefully, on the bench that has already been raised into the ring. She now only has the miserable life of a quadriplegic awaiting her. We will only see one area for her life: the hospital.

The mother announces her visit, but Frankie learns that she has been in town for six days and has not been to see her. Actually, they have gone tourism and for her daughter to sign some papers with which she gives the money she has earned to her family. He tries to object, but is kicked out of the room. However, Maggie is up for moral justice, and she doesn’t sign.

The pain Frankie is feeling is so excruciating that he has to expel it around him. Therefore, he blames Eddie for pushing him to finally train a girl, which he had resisted so much. Desperate, he calls all the hospitals, but none of them give him a solution. At two months, Maggie is stable. She is taken to a specialized center. She can’t breathe on her own. She ends up having her leg amputated. And she has many wounds due to her prostration. Now that she’s close to her town again, Frankie goes back to church every day. There, he prays for his two daughters, for the one he had and would like to get back, and for the one she has emotionally acquired. She is she has asked him to die. “I don’t want to live like this, Frankie. I already saw the world. People chanted my name. I was in magazines. I was born weighing less than two kilos. I achieved it all, don’t let this bed take it from me now. He doesn’t know if he will dare. For the moment he has told him no, and for that reason he tries to commit suicide by biting his tongue to bleed to death.

Frankie begins to consider fulfilling that act of mercy that in other eyes is committing murder. He consults the priest of his church: “You can’t do it, and you know it.” And he answers: “If I kill her, I commit a sin; and if I leave her alive it is as if I were killing her”. “If you do this, you will lose yourself so deeply that you will never be found again.” Maggie is sedated so that she does not try to take a life that she is no longer, except in the minimum expression of her existence.

Frankie becomes convinced that there is no more sincere option than to do so. One night, Eddie, who has always been following him, approaches his great friend, despite the apparent distances. He knows that what he is carrying in his hands is the briefcase with everything necessary to fulfill Maggie’s will. He shows up at the hospital, ready to free that young woman from life like someone who cures a disastrous persistence. “Sometimes the greatest act is the death of the loved one.” Before complying with the girl’s wishes, Frankie reveals to her the meaning of that nickname that she had given him as a boxer, those Gaelic words that she was studying, that mo cuishle which was chanted by part of the public and which means: “My girl, my blood”. That has been her for him.

When he leaves the room, he knows that he has performed a compassionate act. We see that Eddie was there, nearby, in the shadows, watching him. The last words of his narration reveal to us that all this story, in reality, has been the writing of a letter addressed to Frankie’s daughter, when he has disappeared for good: “Maybe he went looking for you to ask you to forgive him, but maybe there will be nothing left in his heart. Hopefully he has found a place to be at peace. It doesn’t matter where you are. I hope you know the kind of man your father was, really.” @mundiario

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Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby: An Overwhelming Drama


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