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Million Dollar Baby

October 27, 2015

MDBWhen boxing trainer Frankie Dunn reluctantly takes on Maggie Fitzgerald, it’s the beginning of a journey with completely unforeseen consequences.

A 2004 American film about an underappreciated boxing trainer, the mistakes that haunt him from his past, and his quest for atonement by helping an underdog amateur boxer achieve her dream of becoming a professional.

Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald, a waitress from a Missouri town in the Ozarks, shows up in the Hit Pit, a run-down Los Angeles gym owned and operated by Frankie Dunn, an old, cantankerous boxing trainer. Maggie asks Frankie to train her, but he initially refuses. Maggie works out tirelessly each day in his gym, even after Frankie tells her she’s “too old” to begin a boxing career at her age. Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris, Frankie’s friend and employee (as well as the film’s narrator), encourages and helps her.

Frankie’s prize prospect, “Big” Willie Little, signs with successful manager Mickey Mack after becoming impatient with Dunn’s rejecting offers for a championship bout. With prodding from Scrap and impressed with her persistence, Frankie reluctantly agrees to train Maggie. He warns her that he will teach her only the basics and then find her a manager. Other than Maggie and his employees, the only person Frankie has contact with is a local pastor, with whom he spars verbally at daily Mass.

Before her first fight, Frankie leaves Maggie with a random manager in his gym, much to her dismay; upon being told by Scrap that said manager deliberately put her up against his best girl (coaching the novice to lose) to give her an easy win, Frankie rejoins Maggie in the middle of the bout and coaches her instead to an unforeseen victory. A natural, she fights her way up in the women’s amateur boxing division with Frankie’s coaching, winning many of her lightweight bouts with first-round knockouts. Earning a reputation for her KOs, Frankie must resort to bribery to get other managers to put their trainee fighters up against her.

Eventually, Frankie risks putting her in the junior welterweight class, where her nose is broken in her first match. Frankie comes to establish a paternal bond with Maggie, who substitutes for his estranged daughter. Scrap, concerned when Frankie rejects several offers for big fights, arranges a meeting for her with Mickey Mack at a diner on her 33rd birthday. Out of loyalty, she declines. Frankie begrudgingly accepts a fight for her against a top-ranked opponent in the UK, where he bestows a Gaelic nickname on her. The two travel Europe as she continues to win; Maggie eventually saves up enough of her winnings to buy her mother a house, but she berates Maggie for endangering her government aid, claiming that everyone back home is laughing at her.

Frankie is finally willing to arrange a title fight. He secures Maggie a $1 million match in Las Vegas against the WBA women’s welterweight champion, Billie “The Blue Bear”, a German ex-prostitute who has a reputation as a dirty fighter. Overcoming a shaky start, Maggie begins to dominate the fight, but after a round has ended, Billie knocks her out with an illegal sucker punch from behind after the bell has sounded to indicate the end of the round. Before Frankie can pull the corner stool out of the way which was inappropriately placed on its side by Frankie’s assistant, Maggie lands hard on it, breaking her neck and leaving her a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic.

Frankie is shown experiencing the first three of the five stages of grief: first seeking multiple doctors’ opinions in denial, then blaming Scrap in anger and later trying to bargain with God through prayer.

In a medical rehabilitation facility, Maggie looks forward to a visit from her family, but they arrive accompanied by an attorney and only after having first visited Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood; their only concern is to transfer Maggie’s assets to them. She orders them to leave, threatening to sell the house and inform the IRS of her mother’s welfare fraud if they ever show their faces again.

As the days pass, however, Maggie develops bedsores and undergoes an amputation for an infected leg. She asks a favour of Frankie: to help her die, declaring that she got everything she wanted out of life. A horrified Frankie refuses, and Maggie later bites her tongue repeatedly in an attempt to bleed to death, but the medical staff saves her and takes measures to prevent further suicide attempts. The pastor Frankie has harassed for 23 years, Father Horvak, warns him that he would never find himself again if he were to go through with Maggie’s wishes.

Frankie sneaks in one night, unaware that Scrap is watching from the shadows. Just before administering a fatal injection of adrenaline, he finally tells Maggie the meaning of a nickname he gave her, “mo cuishle” – Irish for “my darling (or ‘my pulse’), and my blood” (literally, “my pulse”). He never returns to the gym. Scrap’s narration is revealed to be a letter to Frankie’s daughter, informing her of her father’s true character. The last shot of the film shows Frankie sitting at the counter of a diner where Maggie once took him.

In early 2005, the film sparked controversy when some disability rights activists protested the ending. Wesley J. Smith in The Weekly Standard also criticized the film for its ending and for missed opportunities; Smith said, “The movie could have ended with Maggie triumphing once again, perhaps having obtained an education and becoming a teacher; or, opening a business managing boxers; or perhaps, receiving a standing ovation as an inspirational speaker.”

Eastwood responded to the criticism by saying the film was about the American dream. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Eastwood distanced himself from the actions of characters in his films, noting, “I’ve gone around in movies blowing people away with a .44 Magnum. But that doesn’t mean I think that’s a proper thing to do”. Roger Ebert stated that “a movie is not good or bad because of its content, but because of how it handles its content. Million Dollar Baby is classical in the clean, clear, strong lines of its story and characters, and had an enormous emotional impact”.

Themes: risk, relationships, religion and living your dream.

He may be good at patching up others’ wounds, but Frankie can’t stop his own cuts from bleeding. At night, he kneels, weighed down by the burden of regrets, and asks God to heal his wounds. He attends daily mass, but instead of voicing his deepest conflict, he harasses an exasperated priest with dogmatic questions about the Trinity and the Immaculate Conception. And while he spends his weeks counseling fighters about how to move their feet, his vocabulary becomes a kind of poetry describing his struggle to “protect himself” in fights he can’t win on his own. Ultimately, when Frankie and his partner Scrap-Iron (Morgan Freeman) talk about boxing, they’re talking about survival. “Everybody’s got a particular number of fights in ’em,” says Scrap. “Nobody knows what that number is.”

Frankie genuinely cares about his fighters and tries to protect them from both the boxing system and from getting physically hurt beyond what it necessary. Frankie is gruff, but he shows kindness and respect for his longtime friend Eddie, and he takes care of several of his boxers outside the ring. In addition, Eddie treats kindly and seeks to protect a deluded, slow, skinny boxer who comes to the gym to train every day.

Frankie writes to his estranged daughter every day in hopes of reconciling with her. He develops a protective, kind father/daughter bond with Maggie, who returns his kindness and loyalty.

Frankie is a faithful, if faith-challenged, Roman Catholic. He prays that God will protect his estranged wife and daughter, and he is said to have attended mass almost every day for the last 23 years. However, he also enjoys frustrating his friend the priest with doubting questions about the trinity and other theological issues.

Frankie Dunn: Mo cuishle means my darling. My blood.

Frankie Dunn: It wasn’t fault. I was wrong to say that.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: You damn right. I found you a fighter. You made her the best fighter she could be.

Frankie Dunn: I killed her.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Don’t say that. Maggie walked through that door with nothing buts guts. No chance in the world of being what she needed to be. It was because of you that she was fighting the championship of the world. You did that. People die everyday, Frankie – mopping floors, washing dishes and you know what their last thought is? I never got my shot. Because of you Maggie got her shot. If she dies today you know what her last thought would be? I think I did all right.

Maggie Fitzgerald: I’m 32, Mr. Dunn, and I’m here celebrating the fact that I spent another year scraping dishes and waitressing which is what I’ve been doing since 13, and according to you, I’ll be 37 before I can even throw a decent punch, which I have to admit, after working on this speed bag for a month getting nowhere may be the God’s simple truth. Other truth is, my brother’s in prison, my sister cheats on welfare by pretending one of her babies is still alive, my daddy’s dead, and my momma weighs 312lbs. If I was thinking straight, I’d go back home, find a used trailer, buy a deep fryer and some oreos. Problem is, this the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: If there’s magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.

[Eddie has his feet up on the desk] Frankie Dunn: You got big holes in your socks.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Oh, they’re not that big.

Frankie Dunn: Didn’t I give you money for some new ones?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: These are my sleeping socks. My feet like a little air at night.

Frankie Dunn: How come you’re wearing them in the daytime, then?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: ‘Cause my daytime socks got too many holes in them.

Frankie Dunn: [to Maggie] All right. I’m gonna disconnect your air machine, then you’re gonna go to sleep. Then I’ll give you a shot, and you’ll… stay asleep. Mo cuishle means “My darling, my blood.”

Father Horvak: What’s confusing you this week?

Frankie Dunn: Oh, it’s the same old “one God-three God” thing.

Father Horvak: Frankie, most people figure out by kindergarten it’s about faith.

Frankie Dunn: Is it sort of like Snap Crackle and Pop, all rolled into one big box?

Father Horvak: You’re standing outside my church, comparing God to Rice Krispies?

Frankie Dunn: Girlie, tough ain’t enough.

Maggie Fitzgerald: I’ve got nobody but you, Frankie.

Frankie Dunn: Well, you’ve got me.

British referee: Ten minutes, luv.

Maggie Fitzgerald: Man says he loves me.

Frankie Dunn: Well, he’s probably not the first one to say that.

Maggie Fitzgerald: First since my daddy.

Frankie Dunn: Hm.

Maggie Fitzgerald: I win, you think he’ll propose?

Frankie Dunn: You win, *I’ll* propose.

Frankie Dunn: You forgot the rule. Now, what is the rule?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Keep my left up?

Frankie Dunn: Is to protect yourself at all times. Now, what is the rule?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Protect myself at all times.

Frankie Dunn: Good. Good.

Maggie Fitzgerald: You’re gonna leave me again?

Frankie Dunn: Never.

Maggie Fitzgerald: I saw your last fight, Shawrelle. Spent so much time face down I thought the canvas had titties.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Frankie likes to say that boxing is an unnatural act, that everything in boxing is backwards: sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back… But step back too far and you ain’t fighting at all.

Danger Barch: Anyone can lose one fight.

Maggie Fitzgerald: I do have one favor to ask of you boss.

Frankie Dunn: Anything you want.

Maggie Fitzgerald: Remember what my daddy did for Axel?

Frankie Dunn: [long pause] Don’t even think about that.

Maggie Fitzgerald: I can’t be like this, Frankie. Not after what I’ve done. I’ve seen the world. People chanted my name. Well, not my name… some damn name you gave me. But they were chanting for me. I was in magazines. You think I ever dreamed that’d happen? I was born two pounds, one-and-a-half ounces. Daddy used to tell me I’d fight my way into this world, and I’d fight my way out. That’s all I wanna do, Frankie. I just don’t wanna fight you to do it. I got what I needed. I got it all. Don’t let ’em keep taking it away from me. Don’t let me lie here ’till I can’t hear those people chanting no more.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: The body knows what fighters don’t: how to protect itself. A neck can only twist so far. Twist it just a hair more and the body says, “Hey, I’ll take it from here because you obviously don’t know what you’re doing… Lie down now, rest, and we’ll talk about this when you regain your senses.” It’s called the knockout mechanism.

Frankie Dunn: Hit the bag.

Maggie Fitzgerald: Like this? [she hits the speed bag]

Frankie Dunn: Stop.

Maggie Fitzgerald: What’d I do wrong?

Frankie Dunn: Okay, you did two things wrong, one is you asked a question and two is you asked another question.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood: you can’t just tell ’em to forget everything you know if you gotta make ’em forget even their bones… make ’em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else… show ’em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy… how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab… how to fight backin’ up so that the other guy doesn’t want to come after you. Then you gotta show ’em all over again. Over and over and over… till they think they’re born that way.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: She’s getting pretty good.

Frankie Dunn: Yeah, real fast. It’s almost as if someone’s been helping her.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Oh, I don’t know. She might just be a natural. Looks like she’s got something.

Frankie Dunn: She’s got my speed bag, that’s what she’s got.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: I wonder how the hell she got that.

Frankie Dunn: [walking away] I wonder!

Maggie Fitzgerald: I can’t be like this, Frankie. Not after what I’ve done. I’ve seen the world. People chanted my name. Well, not my name, some damn name you gave me. They were chanting for me. I was in magazines. You think I ever dreamed that’d happen? I was born two pounds, one-and-a-half ounces. Daddy used to tell me I’d fight my way into this world, and I’d fight my way out. That’s all I wanna do, Frankie. I just don’t wanna fight you to do it. I got what I needed. I got it all. Don’t let ’em keep taking it away from me. Don’t let me lie here ’till I can’t hear those people chanting no more.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Some people say the most important thing a fighter can have is heart. Frankie’d say: show me a fighter who was nothing but heart and I’ll show you a man waiting for a beating.

Maggie Fitzgerald: I seen you looking at me.

Frankie Dunn: Yeah, out of pity.

Maggie Fitzgerald: Don’t you say that. Don’t you say that if it ain’t true. I want a trainer. I don’t want charity, and I don’t want favours.

Frankie Dunn: How many eyes do you need to finish this fight?

Maggie Fitzgerald: One’s enough.

Maggie Fitzgerald: They took my leg, boss.

Frankie Dunn: It’s gonna be allright, you hear?

Maggie Fitzgerald: I always hear your voice, boss.

Frankie Dunn: I swear to God, Father, it’s committing a sin by doing it. By keeping her alive, I’m killing her. Do you know what I mean? How do I get around that?

Father Horvak: You don’t. You step aside, Frankie. You leave her with God.

Frankie Dunn: She’s not asking for God’s help. She’s asking for mine.

Father Horvak: Frankie, I’ve seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person comes to church that much is the kind who can’t forgive himself for something. Whatever sins you’re carrying, they’re nothing compared to this. Forget about God or heaven and hell. If you do this thing, you’ll be lost. Somewhere so deep you’ll never find yourself again.

Frankie Dunn: I think I did it already.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: There is magic in fighting battles beyond endurance

Frankie Dunn: So is Jesus a Demigod?

Father Horvak: There are no Demigods, you fucking Pagan!

Frankie Dunn: You wouldn’t start training to be a ballerina at 31 now, would you?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Already been workin’ it for three years.

Frankie Dunn: And you can’t hit a speed bag? What kind of training is that?

Maggie Fitzgerald: I never had any, boss.

Frankie Dunn: Well, I hate to say it, but it shows.

Maggie Fitzgerald: Working the bag, boss.

Frankie Dunn: I’m not your boss and that bag’s working you.

Maggie Fitzgerald: You don’t have to hang around all day.

Frankie Dunn: I like it here. I don’t mind. In fact, if you weren’t here, I’d come here anyway to read my books.

Frankie Dunn: What’s she sayin’?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Wants to know what you’re readin’.

Frankie Dunn: It’s Yeats. [turns to Maggie] Keep your head back.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Why don’t you talk a little Yeats to her? Show her what a treat that is.

[first lines] Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: [Narrating] Only ever met one man I wouldn’t wanna fight. When I met him he was already the best cut man in the business. Started training and managing in the sixties, but never lost his gift.

Maggie Fitzgerald: You got any family, boss?

Frankie Dunn: What?

Maggie Fitzgerald: You’re spending so much time with me. I didn’t know if you had any.

Frankie Dunn: Well, I’ve got a daughter, Katie.

Maggie Fitzgerald: Well that’s family.

Frankie Dunn: We’re not exactly close.

Maggie Fitzgerald: How much she weigh?

Frankie Dunn: What?

Maggie Fitzgerald: Trouble in my family comes by the pound.

Frankie Dunn: I’m gonna get you out of here. These doctors around here don’t know squat. Otherwise, why would they be living out here in the desert? As soon as you’re able to be moved, we’ll find someplace where they’ve actually studied medicine,

Maggie Fitzgerald: You ever own a dog?

Frankie Dunn: No. Closest I ever came was a middleweight from Barstow.

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Frankie Dunn: [to Father Horvak as he is coming out from Mass] Can you spare a few minutes for the Immaculate Conception?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: All fighters are pig-headed some way or another: some part of them always thinks they know better than you about something. Truth is: even if they’re wrong, even if that one thing is going to be the ruin of them, if you can beat that last bit out of them… they ain’t fighters at all.

[repeated line] Frankie Dunn: I don’t train girls.

Frankie Dunn: [Reads a script from a book in Gaelic]

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: What the hell kind of language is that?

Frankie Dunn: What do you want?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: I just thought you should know you got a fighter out there not talking to another manager.

Frankie Dunn: Not talking to another manager?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: And not just any manager. Mickey Mack.

Frankie Dunn: You came in here to tell me Big Willie is not talking to Mickey Mack.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Not a word. Neither one of him.

Frankie Dunn: [Frustrated] I’m tryin’ to read here.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Well, if you think that more important.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Damndest thing. So, What’s the plan? I know you got one, so you might as well tell me what it is.

Frankie Dunn: It’s your fault. Yeah, it’s your fault she’s lying in there like that. You kept after me until I trained her. I knew I shouldn’t have done it, her being a girl and all. Everything kept telling me not to. Everything but you.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: She grew up knowing one thing: she was trash.

Frankie Dunn: Don’t call me Boss. I’m not your boss and don’t you be calling me that.

Maggie Fitzgerald: If I stop callin’ you Boss, will you train me?

Frankie Dunn: No.

Maggie Fitzgerald: Then I might as well just keep callin you it!

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Yeah right, you’re the smart one. You’re the one learning Greek.

Frankie Dunn: It’s Gaelic.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Well you just protected yourself out of a championship fight! How do you say that in Gaelic?

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Boxing is about respect. Getting it for yourself, and taking it away from the other guy.

Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: Boxing is an unnatural act. Cos everything in it is backwards. You wanna move to the left, you don’t step left, you push on the right toe. To move right, you use your left toe. Instead of running from the pain – like a sane person would do, you step into it.

Danger Barch: [of a water bottle] How’d you get all the ice in here through this little tiny hole?

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