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March 19, 2005

Million Dollar Baby & Assisted Suicide

I finally understand why Terri Schindler Schiavo's story has such ridiculously long legs. It's Morgan Freeman's fault.

Million Dollar Baby, in case you haven't seen it, is a multileveled parable about living and dying. Depending on whom you are, the central moral of the story is about forgiveness, the meaning of sacrifice and family or the moral dilemma of euthanasia. It is the story of an over-protective boxing trainer who, at the urging of his ex-boxer partner, takes on a new fighter, a not-so-young woman with nowhere else to go.

It's a brilliant film in many ways. Let's talk about the movie. The first thing that struck me about this flick is that Eastwood has managed to make it timeless. It has a look which is so different and out of place among Hollywood films that you have to look closely at the automobiles to find out what year it's supposed to be. It succeeds by only being vaguely contemporary, it's a classic American story. Its characters look each other up and down, they stand in shadows, they talk around each other. They are their bodies and their voices in ways that we are not often presented. It is a close and intimate film empty of pretense. It isn't weighty and it didn't make me cry.

Watching Eastwood is making me want to take movies seriously again, something I haven't done for many years. For me, it has all been about converting bits that challenge my home electronics and assault my senses. For inspiration, I'd be happy with reading, thank you. But films like this, if they are not as rare as they seem, might turn that about. In this, the characters speak, not the writers. So emotional impact is not a target - there aren't engineered impact moments. Maybe it's the lighting, maybe it's the music, maybe it's the pace or some combination, but in the end you live through it. I felt as though I have been told a good story, and not had a 'moviegoing experience'. There were no women in faded white dresses with British accents awakening inner feelings somewhere in Africa. There were no broken men finding transcendent moments of redemption. It was something unusual, and perhaps unique: an honest film.

The story might end here, but that would be too simple. There is politics and moral posturing to do in a nation of infidels, and no rest for the weary symbol jockeys of the blogosphere. So I'm obliged to offer the suspicion that a goodly percentage of Terri's 'pro-life' fans are stung by the courageous transgression of Clint Eastwood's Frank. In order to make the following clear, note that there are two kinds of do-gooders in the Florida fracas. There are people who think Terri should live on. There people who think Mrs. Schiavo has lived long enough. Both claim to be friends looking out for hers and the best interests of the nation. Who's right? I think Clint Eastwood was right.

If Eastwood is right, it is because he created family where none truly existed. He grasped the unflinching truth of the danger and risk of skilled competition, and half-heartedly at first, yet finally with conviction and soul, he dedicated himself to bringing to fruition the passionate dream of someone who trusted him to. It is not selfless mentorship. It's investment of self. And if I might pontificate for a moment, this is all the difference between mendacious charity and leadership, which I think is a distinction more of us need to understand. Which is why I wrote the following paragraphs:

Yesterday, the last word in political hypocrisy under the guise of morality brazenly spun its words into my radio's stream. Somebody had the nerve to say Shiavo's death is all about 'judicial activists' changing the definition of life. Aside from the fact that it generally takes an act of congress to get Congress to act, I've not seen such a reactionary bit of grandstanding as yesterday's moves by Hastert and DeLay to jump into Shiavo's business.

The heads at NPR are finally saying '15 years' which is about the first time I've heard it said in any of the numerous radio stories I've been listening to for the past month. It occured to me that the pennance due those who can't abide her assisted suicide would be to watch a one hour video of Schiavo winking and gurgling. Every day. For a year. Let's see how their enthusiasm for political grandstanding weathers that grueling ordeal.

But I don't want that to be what comes out of my mouth today. It's why this post is late, because now I have to think. I have to slow down and stop reacting. Eastwood made me think about my own children and what I am helping them to become. He made me reconsider the notion of whom I might be living for and why. Indeed we should all reconsider the meaning of life in that regard.

Life is not a precious possession. It is not some treasure that can be banked. Life is a vigorous process. It is not something one has, rather it is something one moves with. You can't just get a life. Rather you engage in living. It's all about the dynamism. It's all about the achievement.

If you haven't seen the film, do. It can't be mitigated in the retelling and so I haven't hesitated.

Posted by mbowen at March 19, 2005 02:19 PM

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