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The Moral Bankruptcy of "Million Dollar Baby"
| Mary Jane Owen
The following column analyses from the perspective of a disabled Catholic
the movie "Million Dollar Baby." In doing so, the column discusses
the conclusion of the film.
Why are people in wheelchairs picketing the likely winner of more Oscars
than can fit on a Hollywood mantel? Unfortunately, media responses to these
attempts by disabled people to grab public attention and educate audiences
about the dangers we see in "Million
Dollar Baby" are puny in comparison to the fuming rage directed
by the films advocates against the so-called "right-wing zealots."
Those opponents of "Baby" attack the neat and fictional "snuff"
ending in Clint Eastwoods film. Our concerns are more complex. We
fear the impact this movies vivid and fabricated choices will have
on our continuing struggle to normalize the ways we have found to live our
lives and fulfill our God-given potential.
Unfortunately, each of us in our everyday lives are reminded of the negative
stereotypes that guide the publics view of our value. We understand
that an increasingly utilitarian view of human life calls for some to be
the throw-away people.
There is little hint in the first hour and a half of "Million Dollar
Baby" of the message that comes during its closing minutes. The hesitant
struggle of two emotionally isolated and flawed individuals who find mutual
healing captivates the audience in what otherwise might seem a rather predictable,
feel-good fight film.
The growing affection of Frankie, a hapless trainer and owner of a grungy
gym, for Maggie, who thinks her only escape from trailer-park poverty is
by way of professional boxing, warms our hearts. Their lives are forever
changed by mid-film. We watch the redemption orchestrated with gentle concern
by an old one-eyed ex-boxer named Eddie. We need such tender images in our
But then comes the sucker punch.
If there were greater knowledge and public support of options and opportunities
for those of us with severe disabilities we could join in the view expressed
by Roger Ebert when he mused: "A movie is not good or bad because of
its content, but because of how it handles its content. Million Dollar
Baby is classical in the clean, clear, strong lines of its story and
characters, and had an enormous emotional impact."
That review would make sense to us if we were sure audiences would recognize
that the power and motivations in those final scenes are played for theatrical
effect. They include too many inaccuracies and negative stereotypes to reflect
our realities. That "enormous emotional impact" can, in the knowledge
vacuum of too many of our contemporaries, result in agreement with the frightening
words, "Better dead than disabled."
The fallacious factors used to justify Frankies decision to kill Maggie
are disturbing and reinforce the ideals of the culture of death. It is true
in todays culture that the cheapest, most efficient way to cure disabilities
is to eliminate those of us who have succumbed to the vulnerability God
built into our human bodies. The dreary visual images that end this prize-winning
film reinforce our shared fears and can encourage those concerned about
social justice to dismiss us and return to more traditional populations.
Not everyone who is spinal-injured will choose to struggle through rehabilitation
to find the victories, joy and lessons to be learned on the other side of
initial depression. But at the very least, the public needs to know the
challenges of human vulnerability do not necessarily call for assisted suicide
The fiction of Maggies life post-injury is heartbreaking. I pray that
those who view this film will remember this is a dramatic fabrication and
seek mutual discussions and explorations with people with disabilities.
If not, then the culture of death awaits us.
This column first appeared in the Friday, February 18, 2005 edition of Pittsburgh
Mary Jane Owen is founder and national director of Disabled
Catholics in Action. She is a partially hearing wheelchair user who
recently regained her sight after thirty years of blindness.
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