Million Dollar Baby
Film by Eastwood 
Written By: Patricia Bauer
Million Dollar Baby, American dramatic film, released in 2004, that was directed by Clint Eastwood and starred Eastwood and Hilary Swank. It garnered rapturous reviews and four Academy Awards, including that for best picture.
The movie is narrated by Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (played by Morgan Freeman) and opens on a boxing match in Los Angeles in which “cut man” and trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) is in the corner of “Big” Willie Little (Mike Colter). Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) watches the match and later asks Frankie to train her, but he refuses. Frankie is also reluctant to let Big Willie fight in a title match. Frankie runs the Hit Pit boxing gym, and Scrap is his best friend and the maintenance man for the gym. Maggie, a waitress from the Ozarks region of Missouri, starts working out at the gym. Scrap gives Maggie some tips and lets her borrow a speed bag. Big Willie drops Frankie as his manager and signs with the more aggressive Mickey Mack (Bruce MacVittie). Frankie then reluctantly agrees to train Maggie but states that he will not manage her. After months of training, Maggie is given a manager, but during her first fight, Frankie decides to take over as her manager, and she then knocks out her opponent. Maggie becomes an extraordinarily successful fighter, always knocking out her opponent in the first round. However, managers stop pitting their fighters against her as a result, and Frankie, out of necessity, moves Maggie up to the next weight class. She is equally dominant at this level, and she begins to attract high-profile opportunities, but Frankie turns down such offers. Scrap tells Maggie that Frankie is overprotective of his boxers and arranges for Maggie to meet Mickey Mack, but Maggie remains loyal to Frankie.
Frankie accepts a fight in London for Maggie and gives her a green silk robe with the Gaelic phrase “Mo Cuishle” on the back. Frankie, who studies Gaelic, tells Maggie that he does not know what the phrase means. Maggie becomes a popular fighter in Europe, where people cheer for her as “Mo Cuishle.” When Maggie and Frankie return to the United States, Maggie takes Frankie to meet her mother, for whom Maggie has bought a house. Maggie’s mother, Earline (Margo Martindale), and sister, Mardell (Riki Lindhome), respond to the gift with disdain, and they tell Maggie that her boxing career has made her a laughingstock. Maggie is devastated, and she and Frankie leave. On their return to Los Angeles, Frankie agrees to let Maggie travel to Las Vegas to face Billie “The Blue Bear” (Lucia Rijker) for the welterweight title. The Blue Bear has a reputation for aggressiveness and for fighting dirty. In the first two rounds, the Blue Bear’s cheap shots get the best of Maggie, but Maggie gains a distinct upper hand in the third. As Maggie heads back to her corner after the end of the round, however, the Bear ambushes her with a blow to the head. Maggie falls, hitting her head on the stool in her corner. She suffers a catastrophic spinal cord injury that leaves her quadriplegic. A heartbroken Frankie seeks other opinions to no avail and then has her transferred to a rehabilitation clinic in Los Angeles. After losing a leg to gangrene, Maggie asks Frankie to kill her, as living in this condition is intolerable to her, but he will not. After Maggie bites through her tongue in an effort to bleed to death, however, he changes his mind. He later goes to Maggie’s room, tells her that “Mo cuishle” means “my darling, my blood,” and accedes to her request. Scrap’s narration informs viewers that Frankie never returned to the gym, and it emerges that the story that he has been telling is the text of a letter that he has been writing to Frankie’s estranged daughter.
Million Dollar Baby was based on stories in Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner (2000), written by veteran boxing trainer and manager Jerry Boyd under the pen name F.X. Toole, and was adapted for the screen by Paul Haggis. The movie caused a great deal of controversy. Some writers excoriated it as being a politically motivated piece to argue in favour of legalizing euthanasia, while disability-rights activists complained that the movie wrongly gave the impression that people living with a disability would be better off dead, maintaining that a better ending would have shown Maggie overcoming her despair and embracing her new life. The controversy failed to dent the film’s popularity.
Production notes and credits
- Studios: Warner Brothers, Lakeshore Entertainment, Malpaso Productions, and Albert S. Ruddy Productions
- Director: Clint Eastwood
- Music: Clint Eastwood
- Clint Eastwood (Frankie Dunn)
- Hilary Swank (Maggie Fitzgerald)
- Morgan Freeman (Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris)
Academy Award nominations (* denotes win)
- Lead actor (Clint Eastwood)
- Lead actress* (Hilary Swank)
- Supporting actor* (Morgan Freeman)
- Writing (screenplay) Patricia Bauer
THE ACTORS AND THEIR CHARACTERS
Clint Eastwood: 2000 and beyond
Million Dollar Baby (2004) was another success for Eastwood. A crusty fight trainer (Eastwood) is haunted by his failed relationship with his daughter and a female aspiring boxer (Hilary Swank) who wants to train under him. But tragedy strikes in the midst of her big…
A former boxer in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004) before appearing as Lucius Fox, a research and development guru, in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). Freeman reprised the latter role in the sequels The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). In Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List (2007),…
Hilary Swank, American actress who won two best actress Academy Awards, both for roles that were considered uncommonly difficult and courageous—a young transgender man in Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and a female professional boxer in Million Dollar Baby…
Million Dollar Baby
Commentary by Kevin Miller
“Some choices you don’t want to make,” says Scrap, the one-time heavyweight contender who narrates this film. Unfortunately, his boss, boxing trainer Frankie Dunn, is about to be presented with a real doozie.
It doesn’t appear that way at first. In fact, had I not been aware of all the controversy surrounding this film, I would have been disappointed that a brilliant director like Clint Eastwood had devoted his time to what was turning out to be a compelling but not quite innovative boxing movie. And then, right when the formula calls for a “Rocky-like” character to start shouting “Adrian! Adrian!” with his/her eyes swollen shut and arms raised in victory, Eastwood pulls the old “one-two” and knocks us face-first onto the canvas.
When the world finally comes into focus, we find ourselves in a completely different moral landscape. Up to this point, the film has revolved around a traditional win/lose axis. Now we are in life and death territory, and it doesn’t look like there’s any escape—at least none that would cost Frankie anything less than his soul.
If it seems like I’m dancing around this film’s subject matter, that’s because I am. Any other tack would ruin the viewing experience for those who don’t yet know the story. At the same time, it is difficult to address the compelling questions this film raises without giving away the big plot twist. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, perhaps you should save the rest of this review for later. If you have seen the film and are eager to dig deeper into its themes, read on.
Let me start by saying that, sadly, the response of many Christian critics to this film has been as predictable as a thunderstorm in Saskatchewan. You could see it coming for miles, and it was all dark clouds and thunder. The fact that Eastwood dared to even broach the topic of euthanasia seems to have offended them as much as it offended the priest Frankie consults in this film. And, like the priest, rather than take a thoughtful, compassionate approach to the issue and the people involved, these reviewers simply remind us of the consequences—the rules, as it were—and then leave us to our own devices. However, I think these particular reviewers are reading this movie all wrong. Even though Frankie turns compassionate executioner in the end, I do not see Million Dollar Baby as an endorsement of euthanasia by any stretch. In fact, I have yet to see a film that does such an effective job of raising an ethical question and then allowing us to form our own conclusions, rather than hitting us over the head with an opinion. With this film, Eastwood is not offering an endorsement of assisted suicide. He is saying that it is a complicated subject that raises more questions than answers; that it looks a lot different when you are face-to-face with someone begging to die than it does on paper.
Some of the questions Million Dollar Baby raised in my mind are: Is there a pain so great that it negates the reason for living? Can the Angel of Mercy ever look like the Angel of Death? Can the face of the executioner ever be the face of God? Did Frankie deliver Maggie from hell or deliver her (and himself) to it? When do the hands of Man become the hands of God? When do they become the hands of the devil? And how can we know the difference? The priest in this film says that sometimes we need to step out of the way and let God do his work. But aren’t we God’s agents on earth? As Scrap says several times in this film, “In boxing, everything is backwards.” What about life? Perhaps instead of stepping out of the way in such circumstances, God is waiting for us to step in and do his work. After all, we have the power to end the life of a fellow human being. Isn’t it possible that there are some instances in which exercising this power is not a sin but a blessing? Many people think so when it comes to war, capital punishment, and abortion. Why not euthanasia?
Lest anyone think I am endorsing euthanasia in this review, I am not. I’m not advocating against it either though, because, frankly, I haven’t answered the above questions well enough for myself. However, I do know that as I watched Frankie bend over and kiss Maggie one last time, he had no motive other than love in his heart. I also realized that no matter how miserable she was, there was no way I could have brought myself to reduce this beautiful, spirited girl to nothing but a cold lump of flesh. It just goes to show that when it comes to life and death choices, sometimes emotions can cloud your judgment. At other times, they make things perfectly clear.
Scrap is correct. No one wants to face a choice like this. But with the “right to die” movement growing in strength, I am thankful that Eastwood used this film to give the question of assisted suicide the moral gravity and attention it deserves.
Copyright @ 2005 Kevin Miller
HUMAN EXPERIENCES EXPLORED IN THIS FILM
MENTAL, PHYSICAL & SOCIAL DISABILITY