Million Dollar Baby

 Love me?  Kill me.

This is the story of a girl wants to get love and has not been able to from her white trash family and a man wants to provide and has not been able to since his daughter long ago withdrew.  The girl wants to get love; the man wants to give it.  They’re made for each other.million dollar baby

They meet in a pit, a dark, edge-of-the-world pit seemingly full of losers, losers who want the limelight, but they are in darkness.  It is always night.  He drives a banged up old car; she brings home, for dinner, a left-over steak from the restaurant where she’s a waitress.   You could almost say they are broken, but they are not; they’re both lookin’ for something.  The atmosphere of their boxing world is dark, nighttime, enclosed, grimy, dirty, cut off from the outside world, on the edge, and tough:  “The Hit Pit.”  Even the rings in which boxers box seem to be sunken, subterranean, enveloped by darkness. She is a fighter—or wants to be; he is a star trainer and manager—or wants to be.  If only they could find the right partner, they could get what they want.  She wants to be his student, but but she’s a girl and she’s over the hill at 32.  He, Mister Gruff, has got what she wants, but he won’t give it.  Throughout Act I he says no:  Leave.  Just go.

But at the end of Act I we see him get another in a stack of “returned letters”—we do not know yet that it is from his own daughter, but he knows.  Then we see him lose another boxer, one who forsakes his training for the long run for his desire to start winning in the short run.   And we see Mr. Gruff trainer pray on his knees each night and go to church each Sunday because he is searching, searching for something. He adapts to his emptiness by barking.   He barks at everyone; this hides his desire to give love, but that is his objective.  She implores:  train me, boss.  He begins to see that she has got that irrational interior spark that makes champions.  Don’t call me boss, he commands.  Then he agrees to train her.  Maggie’s heart turns inside out with joy.  “Thanks, boss.” We are set up for two people who might provide each other what the other needs in order to get what they themselves seek.

Life is a fight, but that’s not the premise that underlies this film.  In the whole Act II, she is wins, wins, wins.   And she calls him boss.  He has to fight with her to not knock out her opponent in the first round; that’s how good—or bad—she is.   Ok, boss.  His training trumps her winning.  Training reigns supreme.  The premise is that training works.   That’s what she is missing and what he has to give; she has the spunk, the drive, the fire, but a champion needs technique that lasts.  A champion must endure.  Fight the right fights:  pace.  Frankie modulates her fire and guides her career.  They are happening.   Sometimes Maggie apologizes for winning too often, too quickly.  Sorry, boss.  Who is the trainer?  Who is the trainee?  In many a great training relationship, that question arises.  The fire in her belly weakens his stamina, and he begins to put her in fights against his own better judgment, and he has to bend the rules to do it:  He pays off other managers. Frankie enfolds Maggie in a bright green robe of health and love.  The robe has a secret in Gallic, but he does not tell her what it is.  It is that she is “my precious.”   Gruff old Frankie cannot quite tell her that in plain English, but he has managed to give love to one who wants it.   The crowds love her.  Frankie loves her.  Her family didn’t—despite the fact she honored them with her winnings; she could not get their love, the lack of which sent her off seeking.  Now she has all these millions of strangers who love her and seem to make up for it.  Love.

She is the driving force.  He puts her in a fight against his better judgment.  Together they betray the premise that training works.  He tells her to fight dirt with dirt:  throw illegal punches at this devious opponent.  She does not protect herself, violating the basic tenant to protect one’s self first.  She turns her back on the evil fighter, and crack:  her neck broken.  Just like she’d said:  I’ll fly to Las Vegas, but ride back.  Indeed:  in the back of an Emergency Ambulance.

Act III:  The winning broke her neck but not her spirit.  How would Frankie give love now—and how would she get it?  Now, in Act III, they are above ground’  all is white and light and clean, not gritty.  The hospital bed is high, exposed, open.  Maggie remembers the roar of the crowds.  She got their love and the love of Frankie.  She wanted to keep it that way. He had said:  boxing is the magic of going beyond anything you know.  To make a fighter, you gotta stop ‘em down to bare wood.  The bare wood is the thoughts, the mind, the brain.  You have got to do what makes no sense.  Maggie, the champ, was ready for that, too.  She gives him the last opportunity to give her love:  please kill me.  This way, she could still hear the roar of the crowd, the roar that he provided for her.

Then she’s gone; she got what she wanted.  He, then, the provider, is complete, so he can disappear.  We cannot even tell if he is just vanished or if he himself died, but his character arc is done.  Their dreams came true, they got what they wanted, but it took a tragedy.

Eddie the one-eyed, sees it all.  What does he say?  He forgives.  Does he know that they both violated the premise by advising and then playing “dirty” in the ring in that last fight?  Eddie the one-eyed, God, just says:  you gave her what most do not get.  You gave her a chance.   You gave her life; you gave her death.  It was a high price, but you were willing to pay it.

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