So, I swear that when I planned to watch this the day after Rocky, I didn’t realize it was another boxing movie. Sure, I probably knew the basic premise at some point, but as I navigated from the Best Picture list to Netflix, I didn’t know what I was in for.
Actually, all I knew about Million Dollar Baby was from a random joke on The Office (which I didn’t get at the time, but turned out to be kind of a major spoiler). Even that hanging in the back of mind didn’t prevent me from loving this film.
As I’ve mentioned, I have a soft spot for boxing. I have an even softer spot for stories about misfits or loners who find each other. At its core, this was a love story. We never needed to learn the meaning of mo chuisle to know that it was a term of endearment. It’s fitting somehow that it’s expressed in a means both open to all and couched in secrecy, like an inside joke to which only Frankie knows the punchline.
Yes, there were some problematic moments. I really wish Maggie’s welfare-cheat family had a little more complexity to them, and that the issue of poverty (theirs and Maggie’s) was more than just a caricature. But I suppose it served the greater story, that of building a relationship between Frankie and Maggie. It’s a film that warrants re-watching, not because to catch the things you might have missed the first time around, but to appreciate moments of poignancy.
I enjoyed contrasting this film with Rocky, to see what a difference twenty years could make in a best picture. Both felt realistic, but also of their time. Boxing is kind of a man’s world, where the women can participate only if they prove themselves to be as masculine as the male heroes. Rocky had a feeling of allegory to it, like David facing Goliath or the Tortoise and the Hare. Million Dollar Baby had a sense of the fantastic to it, with its dramatic voiceover and the fairy-tale story of Maggie’s meteoric rise to stardom. One story of an unexpected rise, the other of a fall. It’s almost as if Million Dollar Baby is a sequel of sorts, not that Rocky really needed another one.
One of my favorite episodes of Battlestar Galactica featured boxing: “Unfinished Business.” It’s sort of a strange episode, half of it flashback, where not much of anything happens. The characters are in a sort of holding pattern, trying to come to terms with what they’ve just survived – the Cylon occupation on New Caprica. Naturally, they resolve their frustrations by beating the shit out of each other. And somehow, by the end of the episode, things have shifted a bit. They’ve regained some of their trust.
Boxing is a sport of trust. Trust in trainers and the people in your corner; trust in your own endurance and power. Rocky showed us the latter, trusting in your ability to carry on against the odds. Million Dollar Baby shows us the strength that can be found between a fighter and her trainer. Trust is love.
First Time Watching? Yes
Loved it/Liked it/Hated it: It was darling.