Since my first post regarding Million Dollar Baby ("MDB"), I’ve had some discussions with Funky Dung and have seen some feedback from other bloggers. I’d like to add a few more points. I’d like to discuss this movie in the context of Eastwood’s other two biggest movies, Unforgiven and Mystic River, and talk about how I’d like to see pro-life and disability-rights advocates use this movie.
First, Eastwood’s best movies tend to focus on the themes of decay, death, and sin. Clint’s two other most critically-acclaimed films have been the Western "Unforgiven" and the crime drama "Mystic River". In Unforgiven, Clint plays Ed Munnie,a notorious hired killer who cleans up after marrying and becomes a farmer. Munnie, however, is no spring chicken (like Clint himself), and decides to go after two men who have a price on their heads for cutting up a prostitute rather than eke out a precarious existence as a hog farmer with two young kids.
Munnie, however, is driven to drinking by the violence, apparently as some sort of self-medication. A young sidekick, despite his big mouth, turns out to be severely traumatized when he does kill a man. Morgan Freeman, playing another aging gun-for-hire, is killed. In Mystic River, an ex-con played by Sean Penn commits murder in the name of avenging his slain daughter, and as a result falls completely back into a life of crime. In the light of these movies, I think that we see a similar fall from grace, rather than an approval of what the characters did.
Diane Eastman wrote a piercing assessment of the movie as seen by a handicapped disabilities advocate. I have great respect for Attorney Eastman’s group, Not Dead Yet, and favorably reviewed a book to which she contributed,The Case Against Assisted Suicide. However, in the light of Eastwood’s common themes and my own take on the movies’ characters (see my last post), While I find her reservations quite understandable, I do not think that is what Eastwood intended. In fact, Funky Dung pointed me to an interview with Eastwood where he openly says that the priest in MDB spoke the truth when he said that if Eastwood helped kill her, he would loose something of himself forever.
I wish to now discuss how I would have wanted the pro-life movement to address this movie. First off: have you heard of or seen "Vera Drake" or "The Sea Within"? No? Well, "Vera Drake" canonizes an English abortionist, and "The Sea Within" is about a Spanish man’s crusade for the right to die. These movies are openly for abortion or euthanasia. Yet if we gave those openly anti-life movies half the flak we gave MDB, we’d give them plenty of notoriety and free PR. Ask Michael Moore or Mel Gibson about the virtues of notoriety, if they aren’t still busy counting their box office fortunes. Perhaps it is largely due to the McCarthy era, but Americans often romanticize artists who struggle against political opposition, and when we have diatribes against a movie made by powerful figures like the Archbishop of Denver (a man whom I quite admire), pro-lifers stand to shoot themselves in the foot by creating artistic martyrs, something that the press frequently adores. (Especially if said martyr advocates a liberal cause.)
We should address the movie in a constructive manner. As dlw noted in a comment on this blog’s previous post, the priest was not a model of pastoral care. He got angry, even swore, and didn’t do a hot job of helping Eastwood resist Swank’s plea to help her die. However, these imperfections are natural, especially since Eastwood’s character was a very difficult parishioner–I’m not sure how well I’d do in such a situation.
Therefore, what we should do is turn this movie into a teaching device. Get some people on EWTN or Priests for Life to go over the priests’ scenes and teach pastors or counselors how they can do better. Publish fact sheets on psychiatric help for newly-quadriplegic patients. We have a large array of resources and counseling for the disabled–let’s use this movie to get the word out!
Some of the most valuable lessons I received from my parents were when after I had seen things that upset me–like watching a cat kill a small animal–and they would explain how such things work in nature or how good people should handle such disturbing things. MDB, like good art, held a mirror up to our existence and reminded the public of some of the ugly things that can happen to people. Pro-lifers, church leaders and others who hold teaching ministries should take a page from mine (and others’) parents and use it to help us learn, and not to shoot the messenger.