Million Dollar Baby, Part II: Mo’ “Mo Cuishla”

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.

Comments 23

  1. Funky Dung wrote:

    “A concern for the rightness of the system, or rules of the game, is the most effective way to help those that would be hungry, naked or taken advantage of.”

    Wrong. Individual and Church-wide charity is the most effective way to help. Making the “game” as fair as possible is an admirable goal and one worth pursuing. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are called to be in this world but not of it. If you play the game of politics, eventually you end up robbing Peter to pay Paul or comprimising one’s moral and/or ethical standards on one issue to win a battle for another. Christ was not a politician, nor were His apostles. The early Church functioned much like a commune and did not depend on any goverment to take care of people. Excessive reliance on government is a dangerous thing.

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 6:37 pm
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    “It doesn’t take that much to demand that our country take a stand in the UN to send in peacekeepers to reduce the carnage in Sudan. I mean the US is the defacto leader of the world order and our gov’t needs our votes to stay in power. We have the power to make things happen if we act together in enough numbers, or with enough vehemence as has been put into Terri’s case.”

    Your idealism is touching, but idealism doesn’t get much accomplished. There are too many “if” statements in your suggestions. The US cannot force the UN to do anything. I think that was made abundantly clear when Bush ended up bypassing the UN to go into Iraq. *If* the right people run for office, *if* we elect the right leaders, *if* they follow through on their campaign promises, and *if* they don’t encounter much opposition, thing *might* happen. Perhaps you’ve realized this and prefer direct petitioning of the government in the form of activism, fine. *If* you can get enough people to listen to your cause, *if* they are receptive, *if* they aren’t lazy, *if* you jump through the right hoops, and *if* enough people in government agree with you (or fear for their jobs), then you *might* be heard and some action *might* be taken.

    Perhaps I sound a bit cynical in my appraisal of our political processes. Don’t take that to mean I find no value in Christians fulfilling their civic duties. I just don’t want to rely on the government to do the work of God for me. Charity is best handled by individuals and Churches, not elected assemblies.

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 6:46 pm
  3. dlw wrote:

    Distribution of income is not a Catholic concern. Quality of life is. It may seem nit-picky, but it’s important to not get social justice tangled in currency. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and helping unjustly imprisoned are important, not what economic system or how much money is used to achieve those goals. Money does not belong to God or the Church. It belongs to Caesar, i.e. the government.

    Quality of life is correlated with income. You need to read Yoder’s Politics of Jesus. A concern for the rightness of the system, or rules of the game, is the most effective way to help those that would be hungry, naked or taken advantage of.

    On a side note, an important distinction needs to be made between the Schiavo case and atrocities committed around the world, such as in Sudan. Terri Schiavo is and American citizen on American soil. It is much more likely that we can help her, and others like her now and in the future, than those on another sovereign nation’s soil. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored, but people should be aware of that very significant mitigating circumstance.

    I very much disagree. It doesn’t take that much to demand that our country take a stand in the UN to send in peacekeepers to reduce the carnage in Sudan. I mean the US is the defacto leader of the world order and our gov’t needs our votes to stay in power. We have the power to make things happen if we act together in enough numbers, or with enough vehemence as has been put into Terri’s case.

    Sorry Funky,
    you’re wrong and misdirected on this one…

    dlw

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 6:25 pm
  4. dlw wrote:

    Wrong. Individual and Church-wide charity is the most effective way to help. Making the “game” as fair as possible is an admirable goal and one worth pursuing. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are called to be in this world but not of it. If you play the game of politics, eventually you end up robbing Peter to pay Paul or comprimising one’s moral and/or ethical standards on one issue to win a battle for another. Christ was not a politician, nor were His apostles. The early Church functioned much like a commune and did not depend on any goverment to take care of people. Excessive reliance on government is a dangerous thing.

    To be not of this world, under the kingship of God, does not mean a disengagement from the concerns of this world, including those labelled today as political.

    You really do need to read Yoder’s “Politics of Jesus”. It is fallacious to say Jesus was not political. One does not have to be a politician to be political. You yourself are already playing the game of politics with your decision to be active in some areas and not others.

    One can be a politician and serve God in doing so, so long as one is a peace-maker and does not hold on to power as a way to displace God. This is where the concern for the rules of the game is of paramount importance.
    dlw

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 7:09 pm
  5. dlw wrote:

    Your idealism is touching, but idealism doesn’t get much accomplished.

    no, only spin gets stuff accomplished.

    Funky, you are a very smart person. However, you are still a novice in areas of politics. Whereas I have studied these things my entire life and studied broadly in the social sciences.

    There are too many “if” statements in your suggestions. The US cannot force the UN to do anything. I think that was made abundantly clear when Bush ended up bypassing the UN to go into Iraq.

    apples and oranges. That was a war of preemption with no solid evidence that Iraq even had WMDs. Now, we are talking about genocide, in the wake of Rwanda and the feelings stirred by the movie, Hotel Rwanda. Now is the time when leadership is needed.

    *If* the right people run for office, *if* we elect the right leaders, *if* they follow through on their campaign promises, and *if* they don’t encounter much opposition, thing *might* happen. Perhaps you’ve realized this and prefer direct petitioning of the government in the form of activism, fine. *If* you can get enough people to listen to your cause, *if* they are receptive, *if* they aren’t lazy, *if* you jump through the right hoops, and *if* enough people in government agree with you (or fear for their jobs), then you *might* be heard and some action *might* be taken.

    I don’t see why these ifs would apply to Sudan and not to Terri. One cannot let the indeterminacies of the outcomes of action stop us from acting. The real *if* is how we decide to let our lights shine before the world and to judge the likely ways to save lives and promote a culture of life.

    It doesn’t matter if Terri’s life is worth saving. In the eyes of the world, they will see you as guilty of the sin of omission to do nothing to help save lives in Sudan when you’ve been doing so much to extend this poor woman’s life.

    Perhaps I sound a bit cynical in my appraisal of our political processes. Don’t take that to mean I find no value in Christians fulfilling their civic duties. I just don’t want to rely on the government to do the work of God for me. Charity is best handled by individuals and Churches, not elected assemblies.

    Individuals and Churches do God’s work also by being responsible citizens and engaging in the political process. That is what you and others are doing right now on behalf of Terri. It’s what you could also be doing on behalf of those in Sudan.

    dlw

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 7:20 pm
  6. dlw wrote:

    And here I thought that was a reference to the “calcification” of various viewpoints in your mind.

    dlw

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 9:24 pm
  7. dlw wrote:

    as I’m sure you are aware, you’re position is not the Catholic one. It may be held by some Catholics like yourself. I mean you do have some freedom of conscience, or rights to be wrong, but it is a far cry from what both Catholic Social Teaching and Thought teach.

    My views are more catholic than yours on this one. And I say that not to wield it over you, but as part of my plea for more deliberation on how you wield your say-so/spin from this blog to save lives and advance a culture of life. Part of doing that is taking the engagement with the political process seriously and picking our battles better.
    cheers,
    dlw

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 7:56 pm
  8. Funky Dung wrote:

    Distribution of income is not a Catholic concern. Quality of life is. It may seem nit-picky, but it’s important to not get social justice tangled in currency. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and helping unjustly imprisoned are important, not what economic system or how much money is used to achieve those goals. Money does not belong to God or the Church. It belongs to Caesar, i.e. the government.

    On a side note, an important distinction needs to be made between the Schiavo case and atrocities committed around the world, such as in Sudan. Terri Schiavo is and American citizen on American soil. It is much more likely that we can help her, and others like her now and in the future, than those on another sovereign nation’s soil. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored, but people should be aware of that very significant mitigating circumstance.

    Posted 20 Mar 2005 at 10:18 pm
  9. Tom Smith wrote:

    dlw,

    Have you read Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas? It’s not long, and very enlightening as to Catholic teaching on the matter. It’s available electronically for free from EWTN’s online library.

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 8:11 pm
  10. Funky Dung wrote:

    He meant those that Eastwood directed.

    Posted 15 Mar 2005 at 8:30 pm
  11. dlw wrote:

    I also think that their recentness also increases the likelihood that their themes/lessons would be similar.

    As I understand it, Clint has turned significantly away from his Dirty Harry past to a view that is very much against us humans taking life and decisions into our own hands. He also focuses more on the reality of evil/tragic in this world.

    dlw

    Posted 15 Mar 2005 at 10:54 pm
  12. Funky Dung wrote:

    I don’t have time to follow the link right now, but on the face of it, I agree with Mr. Knight. It definitely bothers me that we’ve done so little there. However, two wrongs don’t make a right, so I’d still like to see Schiavo live.

    Posted 18 Mar 2005 at 8:36 pm
  13. Tom Smith wrote:

    I was fascinated by Jerry’s article, and by dlw’s comment. Since I haven’t seen *any* of the movies mentioned, however, I don’t think I have any ground to make a point. But I would like to add that limiting Clint Eastwood’s three biggest movies to Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Unforgiven leaves off two of the best movies I’ve seen: Dirty Harry and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, both of which feature interesting moral material, which, fleshed out, might be useful even in this discussion.

    Posted 15 Mar 2005 at 7:01 pm
  14. Tom Smith wrote:

    I was goofing on how Clint Eastwood is known for starring in westerns andcop films, namely Dirty Harry ad The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and that The Bridges of Madison County, which he directed, was a romance (I didn’t care for the film too much either). I wasn’t mocking Jerry’s article or his film choices, but Clint Eastwood’s delving into the romance genre. I think that movie was just plain bad. I’m sorry if it came off as though I were poking fun at Jerry somehow.

    My original point was simply that some of his earlier work (which he didn’t direct) would be interesting to look at in this light, too. That was all, until I saw an opportunity to make fun of The Bridges of Madison County.

    I apologize for derailing the discussion.

    Posted 16 Mar 2005 at 12:37 am
  15. dlw wrote:

    I would like to hear from Terri supporters a response to my friend Steve Knight’s plea that we also consider spending some of our energy on behalf of those dying in Sudan.

    http://wetzell.blogspot.com/2005/03/saving-lives-effectively.html

    dlw

    Posted 18 Mar 2005 at 5:39 pm
  16. Jerry Nora wrote:

    I’m curious about those liberal pleas for moderating resource consumption and how they are turned against Terrie Schiavo. Sure, we aren’t directing our resources for saving lives efficiently, but why do we have to sacrifice Terri, rather than asking the Starbucks-sipping, million-dollar mortgage holding, SUV-driving American to do more for their fellow human? There aren’t many Terri’s, so sacrificing them will not do much in the big picture, even if one is a consequentialist.

    (And I’m not necessarily advocating more taxes on the middle class or upper class either; I’m rather arguing for individual Christians to do a better job of showing how happiness is not directly related to material possessions, and how the great material resources we’ve been given can do so much to help the world. I dislike it when the apostolic life and agape get obfuscated by “social justice” and assorted policy-related shibboleths.)

    Posted 20 Mar 2005 at 5:52 am
  17. dlw wrote:

    It’d be interesting to compare the movie with the short-story that it was based on. I’m guessing the original short-story may have been more in favor of euthanasia and Eastwood added the mitigating elements against taking others lives.

    I still don’t see Maggie as committing suicide. I see her as rejecting the indefinite postponement of the natural consequence of the tragic event that befell her. Unlike with Diane Eastman, you and me, and maybe FunkyDung, Maggie was not called to the life of the mind. She could not continue her vocation while paralyzed from the neck down.

    In which case, Eastwood’s character was not murdering her, but making sure that she died peacefully and his alienation from life is a tragic consequence of the dogmatism of the priest and the RCC.

    My approach is consequentialist, but not utilitarian, with the proper telos being the kingship of God. Its not utilitarian in that I do not claim a natural basis for evaluating the ends, but root it in my faith-commitment. From a consequentialist perspective the issue is not whether someone dies, but what sort of life they are going to live for the rest of their life. I also believe that even a life with a much lower functionality can still glorify God and be worth saving. I generally believe it is necessary to consider in detail the many different cases and to err on the side of life when in doubt.

    But I absolutely agree with your last bit. Lets be constructive and exhort others to embrace a culture of life .
    cheers,
    dlw

    Posted 14 Mar 2005 at 11:24 pm
  18. Funky Dung wrote:

    There’s an article about forgotten atrocities (Darfur being one of them) I’ve been meaning to post, but I haven’t had the time. Perhaps I should find the time.

    I should calify something. I most certainly am horrified by what’s happened/happening in places like Sudan and Rwanda. More should have been done and more should be done. You speak of picking battle well. Right now, it seems there is little unity in our government regarding foreign situations such as those. There is, however, a great deal of unity in desire to help Terri Schiavo and, consequently, others like her. Bills regarding the latter stand better chance of immediate passage that those regarding the former. That doesn’t mean we should stop working for government intervention in those situations. It just means that right now a woman’s life can be saved if we hurry.

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 8:08 pm
  19. Funky Dung wrote:

    Um…Tom, the point is that Jerry was comparing MDB to other films Eastwood directed. He picked his three most recent biggies. These are films that, as director, he had power and control over (whereas he had no control over Dirty Harry). I see no reason to get snarky.

    Posted 15 Mar 2005 at 10:43 pm
  20. dlw wrote:

    Well, I think we’ve shown that we can change policy if we act together. The question is what policies should we try to change? What principles should there be? My friend Steve is saying we should value more actions that will effectively save lives.

    That may mean we cast a wider net and give up some cases of tragedy to God.

    I am glad that Terry’s life will be spared, as I understand it.

    As I understand it, the issues surrounding the Social Gospel is more one of missiology. What ought to be our ways of letting our lights shine before the world. Catholic Social Thought has long held that helping to mediate between class conflicts to ensure a more just distribution of income is a responsibility of the Church.

    dlw

    Posted 20 Mar 2005 at 9:48 pm
  21. Tom Smith wrote:

    Well, then. I see. In that case, I’ll have to add “The Bridges of Madison County” to my list of favorite Clint films.

    Not.

    Posted 15 Mar 2005 at 10:18 pm
  22. Funky Dung wrote:

    While I’m “calify”-ing things, perhaps I should clarify them, too. 😉 Man, my typing skills suck.

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 9:10 pm
  23. dlw wrote:

    Why do you think they have that unity? They want to score points with religious voters.

    We need to reflect on which ways we cause the direction of the wind to blow.

    dlw

    Posted 21 Mar 2005 at 8:11 pm

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