Million Dollar Baby

by Michael Potemra

I finally saw it. To the extent that it rises above (or sinks below) the level of a formulaic boxing movie, it is a film that combines right-wing Nietzscheanism with left-wing Nietzscheanism in a strong brew of despair and dehumanization. Enough has probably been said about the film’s depiction, in its final scenes, of bioethical issues. What does need pointing out, I think, is the extent to which the final scenes are not tacked on, but rather are a natural outgrowth of the rest of this pernicious film. The movie from the very beginning uses boxing as a metaphor for life: The people who have dignity are the fighters. This is an easy metaphor to get away with, because–in its fallen condition–mankind does indeed tend to lose sight of its true source of dignity, and seek its redemption on an individual basis: being better, stronger, tougher, faster, smarter, wittier, more famous, etc., than the next person. But acquiescing in this metaphor of struggle can carry a prohibitive moral cost, which is abundantly on display in this ugly film. The movie’s chief villains are the woman boxer’s female relatives: They are depicted as without any redeeming virtue, a bunch of thugs and welfare cheats who live off others without any gratitude. The film does not use the old Nazi phrase “useless eaters” to describe them, but the idea comes through loud and clear. No wonder, then, that when the heroine—remember, she is tough, famous, pretty, and noble; in short, someone who deserves to be alive—faces the possibility of life as just such a “useless eater,” she, like the film, chooses death. This is a dull movie, punctuated by a handful of emotionally effective moments, and carries a degrading message. It is a not an analysis of what sin has done to humanity; it is a symptom.

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