Macchars don’t wear sweaters

Review of Million Dollar Baby

Posted on: August 12, 2008

Having recently come across a blogger who writes about movies with such depth and sensitivity that it’s almost staggering, I have been inspired to take up the business of movie reviews again.


The movie for the purpose of the current post is Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. I never really was much inclined to see the movie, because of my general negative assessment of “boxing” movies. They remind me of movies like “Rocky” or its Hindi counterpart “Boxer” (Mithun) which trace the fortunes of a star boxer, who ultimately rises and triumphs after being knocked down a couple of hundred times. It is for this reason that I passed over even a classic like “Raging Bull”.


But when I was finished with MDB, I experienced an emotion that I’ve never felt for a movie. It was the feeling of emotions being piled up and rising to a pitch, but never being released. There never was a moment of catharsis, the sweeping release we feel when the lid is finally raised and the steam rushes out. And it is in this that it seems to me that the movie comes close to the currents of life, which are purely incidental, driven only by chance. It is for humans, with their awareness of existence and capacity to feel pain, to try and find meaning, where there is none inherently.


It is the story of two lives, empty and alienated, which find brief meaning in each other, till life again meanders on its meaningless path. A brief flicker in darkness, before darkness takes over again. The movie is narrated in the voice of Morgan Freeman, who tells its story with the detachment of an observer, but an observer who understands the tragedy of the characters, and harbors profound sympathy for their fate.


Clint Eastwood is Frankie, an old boxing coach, a somber character leading a lonely life, spending most of his time alone in his office reading books. All his attempts to reestablish a connection with his estranged daughter are met with failure as she refuses to have anything to do with him. The monotony of his life is broken when a 31 year old nondescript waitress, Hillary Swank, as Maggie, knocks at his doors to take her under his wing and train her to be a boxer. Hillary comes from a dysfunctional family, has a cold mother and has always led a life of obscurity. Boxing for her is her chance to come out of life where she means nothing and to find meaning and purpose.


Initially dismissive and non-interested, Frankie gives in to her perseverance and passion and decides to coach her. The movie traces her rise as a boxer and the relationship that gradually develops between Frankie and Maggie. It is certainly not romance, and maybe more akin to that of a father-daughter. But it is not even quite that. It is more the connection formed between two forlorn souls, who have finally found a hand to hold on to, found gladness and purpose in a life which was otherwise hurling towards nowhere. Maggie slowly rises to fame and reaches the very top as a boxer. Life finally seems to be heading towards being what it was meant to be. But life has other plans.


It is not in tracing her fortunes as a boxer does the movie become great. The unexpected turn the story takes in the last quarter is what makes it especially touching. An accident in the ring paralyses Maggie completely, and most likely that is how she will have to spend the rest of her life. Life which soared to the heights briefly, again tumbles down to the depths. Unable to see the suffering of the one whom he has grown to love so deeply, Frankie suffers through an intense moral dilemma, till he finally decides to pull the plug, and relieve Maggie of her pain. The action is not an endorsement of euthanasia by the director. It is merely the action of someone who takes a decision in his particular circumstances. Of being torn between being unable to see the suffering of someone you love so much, and yet unable to let go of them.


And to conclude the tale, after pulling the plug on Maggie, Frankie vanishes into the dark night, who knows where, to what town, to do what. We, with the narrator, are left to stare at the emptiness of the rooms where a human tale so touching played itself out, before disappearing forever, leaving the rooms as empty as before.


A poignancy pierces the depths of your heart. Makes you want to look up and scream at the cosmic nothingness.


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