I was pleasantly surprised to find myself agreeing, for a few short moments, with part of Mo Dowd’s Sunday column which concerns the film Million Dollar Baby, and the conservative reaction to the subject matter of the movie: euthanasia or (in the new, acceptable parlance of those who have a euphemism for everything) “assisted death.” I could agree with her that the conservatives should not be reacting so heavily against it.
Eventually, of course, Dowd lost her train of thought and fell into her habit of intellecual laziness, brought on by her usual malice. She got snotty and adolescent and in doing so weakened her own argument, which was actually (for a change) almost a legitimate one.
I haven’t seen the film. I don’t really care to, simply because I rarely go to the movies. Since Saving Private Ryan, I have gone less and less to “intense” dramas, because I don’t go out to be made depressed; I take no pleasure in becoming emotionally overwrought or nerve-bombed. I don’t like to walk out of a film feeling like I need whiskey.
But I’ve read a great deal about the film, and I know that Michael Medved and Rush Limbaugh, among others, have raised the red flag and said, (essentially) “wait a second; this film is advertising itself as a story of a young female boxer and her relationship with her manager. It’s really about assisted suicide, and it promotes that idea.”
Now, many in the conservative camp are up in arms because they believe (and not without reason, given the past) that director Clint Eastwood is “sneaking in” an issue in order to promote it. I have seen bloggers describe the film as “propaganda.”
Maybe it is. But maybe it’s just the story of a man who makes a shocking moral choice and then has enormous difficulty living with it. We used to call that a morality play.
We live in interesting and unsettling times – not least because of the fairly recent awareness that ordinary people have gained about just how easily (and how frequently) the various media have, in fact, been able to form and promote ideas and ideologies and move them forward with a minimum of public discourse, until a dubious moral choice suddenly becomes a “conventional wisdom,” and anyone not in agreement with it, not falling in line, is deemed worthy of dismissive scorn and slanderous stereotyping.
We ordinary people, now attuned, don’t much appreciate this modus, and we don’t want to be victims of it.
But I think in this case, the conservative side, perhaps feeling their oats and happy to be so on top of the whole concept of subliminal (or overt) persuasion, may be overdoing it. That’s going to shock and anger many who read me regularly, but it really should not. I am relentlessly pro-life. I have written several essays on this blog and elsewhere, taking on and arguing against this troubling movement for “assisted death” which has so captured the imagination of the Culture of Death folks. It is because I am so committed to life that I would say don’t be afraid of this film and its ideas. Don’t try to block it or shut it down, or keep the world from seeing it. Shutting down dialogue is exactly how issues become muddled and unclear, and it’s how they become (as with Roe v Wade) decades-long battles.
My understanding, from what I have read, is that this story involves a young woman finding her worth and self-esteem in athletic excellence, only to lose all of that when she is left a quadriplegic. She’s not suffering physically, but she is emotionally depressed, and she doesn’t want to endure her new situation. Having been on top, she does not wish to fade away, living for decades without her newfound glory. She asks her manager to kill her (I try not to use euphemisms in my life, so I will not pretty-up the language.) Her manager agonizes over this, believes what she wants is wrong, and yet – buying into the “choice” mentality – he does what she asks, and then tries to live with it.
He agonizes over what he has done…because what he has done is wrong.
I understand the film finishes with an overtone of acquiesence…in the end, who are we to judge whether or not a person should be forced to live or to die when either choice is “noble.” Which is claptrap, but it’s the sort of “don’t judge” claptrap we’ve been enduring for 45 years, or more, so I DO think we needn’t be shocked. It’s the same claptrap that helped bring about 40 million abortions “she doesn’t want a baby right now, who are you to judge…”
We may have to endure such claptrap for a while, because it is the only way to “in the love of Christ, instruct and admonish each other” as Paul tells us we should. Try to simply shout down and shut down the left and all you’ll do is make them spiteful. More spiteful, I mean. Better to keep the talking going.
Dowd is quite mistaken, on two fronts. Firstly, when Romeo looks for poison that he may die near Juliet, we understand we’re watching an immature teenager, with a teenager’s immature sensibilities. And we know we’re watching a tragedy full of irony. And…and this is important, Mo, so pay attention: we know that the play was not written in an era where a whole culture is trying to advocate suicide as a reasonable alternative to getting some therapy and maybe (gasp!) trying to go on faith for a while. Also, Shakespeare did not say, “come see my play about these tragic lovers” and then present something else. Also, Mo…yes, Ophelia committed suicide…but once again…the girl was out of her head. Bad comparisons. Bad logic.
Secondly, Dowd and others assume that conservative indignation to the film is all about content. It’s not. I said earlier that there is – among the hoi polloi who plop down their hard-earned money for a bit of entertainment – a fairly new realization on their part that for decades they’ve been paying to be propagandized, and they’ve become a bit skittish, and a bit defensive. They don’t want to be treated like idiots – they don’t want to leave a theatre imagining some mogul somewhere sneering at how easy it was to insert an idea, and a perspective, into their collective consciences where it will soon become an inarguable “conventional wisdom,” to which they must submit or risk ridicule. They are not sheep and don’t want to be treated like sheep. If you want to discuss legal suicide with them, then talk legal suicide; don’t dress it up, and don’t sneak it in, just speak up!
In other words…the conservatives are just sick of being played with. You got something to say, be brave enough to SAY it, and then stick around to argue the point, don’t hide behind poor demented Maureen Dowd’s shaky analytical skills, don’t say the movie is about boxing w
hen it’s clearly about something much larger.
The best way to win the respect of the red states is with plain speaking. But you have to also listen to their thoughts as well. Can Hollywood manage that? Can anyone on the left?
Roger Ebert has a decent essay on the whole issue of movie spoilers being given up, but he’s not entirely honest in it. Apparently, some are castigating Limbaugh and Medved and others for giving up the “surprise ending” (I guess they’ll have to castigate me, too) – Ebert allows that in some cases, in order to protect the sensibilities and feelings of quadriplegics, for example, it is useful to let that “surprise ending” slip out. He talks about the twist-endings in The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense, and how they were guarded by both critics and the general public, and he equates this film’s ending with those film’s endings – that Million Dollar Baby contains a twist that should not have been disclosed. And this is where Ebert makes a bloomer, or (still thinking his readers are stoooopit) just gets disingenuous.
A “surprise ending” is an ending that puts an unexpected – even unimaginable – twist onto a story and, with that twist, completely redefines the film. The ending of Million Dollar Baby is no surprise…the woman’s injuries are a thing that happens in sports, and the manager’s agonizing is not leading to a scene where she jumps out of bed and says, “GOTCHA” and takes him out dancing. He agonizes. Then he kills her and agonizes some more. It is NOT a surprise ending.
So, Ebert is, in the end, doing precisely what the red-staters and conservatives are so tired of – he’s calling a dog a kitten and telling folks that they’re making a mistake. He’s talking nonsense, using his reputation to give that nonsense a patina of credibility, and in the process de-emphasizing the fact that this film is about suicide, and not boxing or personal growth. He’s telling them that they’re too stupid to know what they know, and red-staters are fed up with that.
That said – I can’t see boycotting the film or acting like pansy-assed scaredy cats milling around mewing: We shouldn’t allow that film! It might give people ideas! It promotes suicide! It disagrees with our values!
Bulldingy. See the film or don’t, but don’t get a case of the vapors about it. Just stay in this newfound alertness, be ready to argue your point and…if you really feel very strongly about it…help fund filmmakers who will make movies promoting your side of the story. You fight fire with fire; fight film with film.