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Film raises million-dollar issue

This is to introduce a new columnist for Prospector, Nick DeCicco, who will write a monthly column on pop culture. It will run the last Thursday of the month. Nick is a copy editor at The Union.

As the pre-Oscar hubbub looms, one best picture nominee seems to pack a punch its foes simply can’t match.

Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” – heralded by Roger Ebert as the best film of 2004 and by other critics as the best boxing film of all time – has drawn criticism for the prickly issues delivered in the film’s surprising plot twist.



Stop here if you don’t want to know about that twist.

After a title bout with a notoriously dirty fighter, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) becomes a quadriplegic. Maggie loses a leg, alienates her hillbilly family and ultimately asks Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), her trainer and de facto father, to help end her life. Frankie eventually obliges.




Some are appalled by this, calling the film “thinly disguised propaganda for euthanasia” and a “left wing-inspired hoax.” One critic said the film only shows how out of touch “liberal Hollywood” is with a country that showed in the recent presidential election that its primary concern is “moral values.”

Others see the film’s finale as merely a device that shows viewers how deep the bond is between Frankie and Maggie.

Much of the debate about “Million Dollar Baby” is whether or not films have the right to ask viewers about issues such as euthanasia. But the real quandary isn’t whether the issue is out of bounds, but why viewers aren’t asking themselves about the choice Frankie faces.

Too often, people miss the point on these arguments. A fine example is from about two years ago, when the Dixie Chicks said they were embarrassed to be from the same state as President Bush. The backlash dealt with whether or not the Chicks had the right to make those remarks during war time. I don’t recall a lot of talk about whether there was any validity to what they said.

The same is true of the debate surrounding “Million Dollar Baby.” Even Eastwood – who has stated he is “not a pro-euthanasia person” – said it’s up to people to decide for themselves about the dilemma Frankie faces. Certainly, if Eastwood’s aim was to emphasize his personal beliefs, he went about it in a poor fashion.

I don’t feel the film condones Frankie’s actions, but it doesn’t make him a villain, either. When he talks with his priest, Father Horvak (Brian F. O’Byrne) tells him, “If you do this thing, you’ll be lost somewhere so deep, you will never find yourself.” Conversely, when he talks with Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), Scrap tells him to help her die, saying Maggie had her shot at her boxing dream and wouldn’t die wondering “what if?”

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with euthanasia in principle, it is good to watch “Million Dollar Baby” and ask yourself how you feel about the dilemma presented in the movie. We need films like this to continue to challenge our own wisdom, not fight about whether the film should present such an issue. “Million Dollar Baby” does what good art should – it makes us confront our perceptions, fears and ideals and analyze whether we’re right.

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The name Hop on Pop is the title of a 1963 book by Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Giesel. Nick DeCicco may be reached via e-mail at nickd@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4270.


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