Million Dollar Baby

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“Adapted from F.X. Toole’s 2000 collection, Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner, Clint Eastwood’s third super hit after Mystic River/Unforgiven, it is a slow-building story of loss and deliverance. It won four Academy awards including Best Picture, Director (Clint Eastwood), Lead Actress (Hilary Swank) and Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman).“

“Frankie never came back at all. He didn’t leave a note and nobody knew where he went. I wish he’d gone to find you and ask you one more time to forgive him. But, maybe, he didn’t have anything left in his heart. I just hope he’d have found some place where he could find a little peace. A place set in the cedars and oak-trees, somewhere between nowhere and goodbye. But, that’s probably wishful thinking. No matter where he is, I thought you should know what kind of a man your father really was.”

These were the ending words of the story, as narrated by Morgan Freeman, who plays Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris. Scrap was a brilliant boxer of yore, having 109 fights to his credit, but lost his right eye in the last fight. He helps Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) in running a dilapidated, downtown gym, Hit Pit, in Los Angeles. Frankie worked, first as a cut man responsible for stanching blood and closing wounds between rounds, and then as a trainer and owner of Hit Pit. Estranged from his only daughter, Katy, due to reasons unknown, each of his letters to her are returned with cold consistency at his doorstep, re-instilling in him a sense of penance for not being faithful with his daughter. He visits the church everyday, but is so confrontational with the priest, that one day; he has to tell Frankie in exasperation, “Don’t come to Mass, tomorrow.”

Frankie has let a number of champion fighters slip through his hands due to delays in taking them to the final title fights. The cause of this is his fear that his fighters might get hurt – just the way Scrap had in his last fight. He holds himself responsible for not stopping the fight and letting Scrap bleed. He loses Big Willie, yet another champ, to Mickey Mack, a slicker manager who took him to the title, after 8 years of training him. This was the last of his blows before Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) enters and starts badgering him to train her. Frankie has all the reasons to not do so- she is a woman, 31 years old, too late to start fighting. Maggie comes from south western Missouri, and works as a waitress at a local café to make ends meet. Her economic state is miserable to the degree that she scavenges scraps of food left over by customers, but is a woman of extraordinary discipline, self-confidence and physical strength. Her family – a rowdy, old, grudging mother, siblings and their kids, complete with tattoos and cowboy looks – is grossly indifferent, so much so that they estimate every affectionate action by Maggie as a misdeed, with the aim to put them in difficult situations.

Maggie finally manages to get Frankie to train her with the help of Scrap. She is given the name “Mo Cuishle” by Frankie as she starts fighting. Thus, begins the saga of great victories and first-round knockouts, till Maggie has to fight the WBA Welterweight champion to win the title. A turn to return to her corner at the end of a round and a huge punch by her opponent, lands her onto the stool, resulting in a broken spinal cord. Her condition gets from bad to worse with no hope of recovery. By now, Frankie’s found family in Maggie and the two are inseparable. He tries to get her to the best doctors but to no avail. Since, she couldn’t move at all or change positions, she developed skin ulcers and her leg had to be amputated. Finally, since Maggie could take this no more, she asks Frankie to switch the air machine and the respirator off. Frankie’s moral dilemma and his love for Maggie are shown with great emotive dialogues. He knows he should do it, but still can’t let her go.

Meanwhile, Maggie tries to find her own solution. She bites her tongue and nearly bleeds to death before doctors put her on sedatives so she wouldn’t try it again. That is when Frankie could see it no more and decides to do it. He had promised to tell her the meaning of her name if she won the title, and he murmurs now, “Mo Cuishle means my dear, my blood.” Almost mechanically, he disconnects the air machine and gives her a shot of adrenaline so she wouldn’t have to go through it again. And then, he leaves, never to return. In Scrap’s words, “I don’t think he had anything left.” The irony being that some people would say that the most important thing a fighter can have is heart, but Frankie would say, “Show me a fighter who’s anything but heart, and I’ll show you a man waiting for a beating.”

Tania Jain

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