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Film / Million Dollar Baby

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"Working the bag, boss."

Million Dollar Baby is a 2004 American sports drama film directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars along with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. Paul Haggis adapted the screenplay from the 2000 short-story collection Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner by F.X. Toolenote .

Margaret "Maggie" Fitzgerald (Swank) is a down-and-out waitress from Missouri who's striving for a better life in Los Angeles. So, naturally, she does what all down-and-out waitresses do to help themselves out—she decides to become a professional boxer.

The first portion of the movie deals with Maggie trying to get Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), who runs the Hit Pit gym, to train her into becoming a credible boxer. She eventually succeeds and is able to get Frankie and Eddie "Scrap Iron" Dupris (Freeman), another trainer and former boxer, to warm up to her.

After a good deal of training Maggie is able to enter the world of professional women's boxing, where she becomes a remarkably successful fighter. Eventually, however, things take a turn for the worse.

The film won four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), Best Actress (Swank), and Best Supporting Actor (Freeman). Eastwood and Swank also won Golden Globes for Best Director and Actress, respectively.

This film contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Frankie himself laughs at Barch's mocking of Shawrelle after Maggie tells Shawrelle off.
  • All There in the Script: Morgan Freeman's character's full name is "Eddie 'Scrap Iron' Dupris", but he's only ever called "Scrap" by the other characters.
  • Arc Words: "Mo chuisle". Maggie doesn't find out what it means until the end of the movie.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: As powerful as they are, the hospital scenes are a tad unrealistic. In Real Life, hospitalized patients have every right to decline treatment. If they're attached to a breathing machine against their will, they don't have to attempt suicide or beg friends to euthanize them. They can just ask doctors to turn off their respirator. And no hospital would ever keep a patient sedated 24/7 just to stop them from committing suicide—they would more likely get them psychiatric counseling or put them on anti-depressants.
  • Artistic License – Sports: During the title bout, the Blue Bear commits several fouls, including elbowing Maggie in the eye, that would result in immediate automatic disqualification in a real boxing match, but she only receives warnings and a single point deduction for them. The one time the referee does briefly stop the fight to take away a point, he turns his back and leaves the Blue Bear completely unattended while he speaks to the judges, allowing her to punch Maggie again while the latter is still down.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The movie generally makes a hash of the Irish it tries to use. Somewhat justified however in that none of the characters speak Irish, and Frankie, who most frequently attempts it, is trying unsuccessfully to learn the language to get in touch with his Irish heritage. Of particular note is the significant phrase "mo chuisle," which the film spells "mo cuisle" (nouns take a "h" after the second letter when they're possessed).
  • The Atoner: Frankie has made a point of attending Mass every day for 23 years straight, in penance for doing something that irreparably damaged his relationship with his daughter. As Father Horvak correctly points out, "The only man who comes to church that much is the kind that can't forgive himself for something."
  • Braids of Action: Maggie and most of the other female boxers wear their hair in braids, presumably because it's practical.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Type 4, in which Frankie finally kills Maggie after she begs him to end her suffering.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Eddie had one at his 109th fight, losing one of his eyes. Maggie takes a hit and falls onto a stool, breaking her neck and ending up a quadriplegic.
  • Casualty in the Ring:
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Maggie's story about her dog Axel and her father putting it down when it was sick. Actually used more skillfully in the film than in the short story, in which she tells the story right before asking Frankie to kill her. In the movie it comes a good hour beforehand.
    • Maggie asks if she should send some kind of gift to a girl whom she concussed in the ring, Frank dismisses it. It foreshadows that injuries happen in the ring, and that the fighters that did the injuring aren't expected to turn up again in the rest of the movie.
    • There are a lot of quick close-ups on the stool that Eastwood puts in the ring after each round leading up to Maggie falling on it and breaking her neck.
  • Determinator: No matter how discouraging her circumstances or the people around her get, Maggie refuses to give up on her dream of becoming a boxing champion. After she's paralyzed, she's no less determined to end her own life.
  • Disappeared Dad: Maggie's father died long before she started her boxing career, and she shares several fond and/or bittersweet memories of him with Frankie over the first half of the film. His death was a sad turning point for the Fitzgerald family, causing Maggie's mother and sister to become completely welfare dependent and her brother to turn to crime, while Maggie herself looked for any escape route she could find.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: When Frankie talks to Maggie's mom about how it would not be a good idea to see Maggie yet since they have been spending all week at Universal Studios instead of actually visting her, the mom goes on about how "[she] would have taken Maggie there if [she] could have, and it's not like Maggie is going anywhere". Tellingly, her own lawyer looks at her with amazement at both her stupidity and insensitive attitude.
  • Downer Ending: Maggie becomes absolutely miserable due to becoming a quadriplegic and asks Frankie to kill her. He grants her wish and never returns to the gym again.
  • Entitled Bastard: Maggie's mother seems to think that the world, and Maggie in particular, owes her a fortune even though she's a welfare queen who makes no effort to improve her lot. After Maggie buys her a house with no strings attached, she has the audacity to scold Maggie for not giving her cash.
  • A Father to His Men: Frankie does far more to those he trains than just teaching them how to box, helping Willie Little dealing with a car dealer and Maggie with her family and injury.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Eddie spends his days as a glorified janitor and occasional trainer assistant.
  • Foreign Wrestling Heel: Billie the Blue Bear, described as a "former East Berlin prostitute" with no regard for sportsmanship or the safety of opponents.
  • Foreshadowing: "One of these days, that East German boxer is going to kill someone." Sure enough, when Billie the Blue Bear is on the back foot in her title fight with Maggie, she punches her between rounds, causing her to break her neck on the wooden stool in her corner; Maggie is left paralysed, and Frankie ultimately grants her request to Mercy Kill her.
  • Framing Device: Eddie serves as the film's narrator, telling the story of Frankie training Maggie as a boxer and her burgeoning career, Career-Ending Injury, and Mercy Kill at Frankie's hands. It is only in the film's final moments that we learn Eddie's narration is the text of a letter he has written to Frankie's estranged daughter after Frankie's disappearance.
  • Genre Shift: Starts as sports movie about a woman trying to improve her life by becoming a boxer and ends as a tragedy about life-changing injury and assisted suicide.
  • The Hero Dies: Maggie herself at the end in a Mercy Killing from Frank.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Maggie's self-interested mother never signed the full title to the house granting her ownership of it, so that she would continue to rely on welfare. Maggie is aware of this and when her family comes back demanding title to everything, not caring at all about her crippling injury, she promises to sell the house if they dare come back, forcing them to leave emptyhanded.
  • I Have No Son!:
    • Inverted, in the end, Maggie disowns her family after they demand the house and her assets with no sympathy towards her injuries.
    • Also inverted by Frankie's daughter, who has estranged herself from him.
  • Innocently Insensitive: When they first meet, Danger Barch happily assures Eddie that they'll get along, as he "ain't go no problem with niggers." Eddie takes it in stride, understanding that Barch means well and simply doesn't know any better.
  • Jerkass:
    • Maggie's family, especially her mother, shows astounding levels of dickitude, with a generous helping of hypocrisy.
      • Her mother berates her for taking up boxing even though she's good at it and it's making her rich, insisting it's not something a lady should do. She herself is on welfare and doing nothing to improve her situation.
      • When she starts winning big purses, Maggie buys her mother a house. And what happens next? She berates Maggie for not giving her cash instead. If she's a homeowner, you see, she won't qualify for welfare anymore and she doesn't want to work. Toward the end, we find out she never signed the ownership transfer paperwork even though she's living in the house, and it's a major plot point that Maggie still owns the house.
      • When Maggie is paralyzed, her family visits her in the nursing home, after spending a week at Disneyland and Universal Studios, and only to try to get Maggie to sign over all her money to them. This apparently crosses a line, as Maggie tells them that not only are they not getting one dime, if they or their lawyer ever contact her again she'll sell the house out from under them.
    • Shawrelle Berry runs his mouth off at Maggie and bullies Danger Barch throughout the movie.
  • Karma Houdini: Downplayed: It's not shown that Billie the Blue Bear was disqualified, but the referee was getting annoyed with her constant breaking of the rules, and even threatened to disqualify her once. Billie was probably disqualified immediately once the doctors realized the injuries she had inflicted on Maggie after intentionally punching her between rounds. Plus, since Maggie died as a result of her actions, Billie is likely going to be charged with involuntary manslaughter and sent to jail, which will end her fighting career for good.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Makes use of Chekhov's Skill as Frankie uses his expert knowledge of adrenaline to Mercy Kill her as she wants.
  • Mercy Kill: Maggie tells Frankie a story of her father driving into the woods with their terminally ill dog Axel and returning alone; she noticed a shovel in the bed of his pickup truck and realised he had put Axel down and buried him. At the end of the film, she recalls the story again, conveying to Frankie that she wants him to help her commit suicide; he finally obliges by switching off her respirator and giving her an injection of enough adrenaline to stop her heart.
  • Nice Girl: Maggie’s pleasant and unendingly friendly demeanor is what makes her fate even more heartbreaking.
  • Noodle Incident: Something happened between Frankie and his daughter that put a serious strain on their relationship to the point where Frankie's daughter does not want anything to do with him.
  • Oireland: Invoked. Frankie tries to rediscover his Irish roots by attending Catholic mass without understanding the substance of the religion, learning Gaelic reading William Butler Yeats (who mostly wrote in English), and giving Maggie an Irish boxing gimmick.
  • The One Who Made It Out: Maggie's lucrative boxing career enables her to escape life with her hick family, run by a welfare queen who makes no effort to improve her lot and is interested only in getting Maggie's newfound fortune even when Maggie buys a house for them. Even after she becomes a quadriplegic and her family visits to try to get title to her assets, Maggie is able to kick them out because she still owns their house and can sell it anytime she wants.
  • Oscar Bait: Due to the ending, three huge stars as the main characters, and the usual triumph over adversity turning into even more adversity, this was a shoo-in.
  • Parental Substitute: Frankie, for Maggie. Maggie gets the guidance and support she lacks from her mother; Frankie, in turn, gets a surrogate daughter as his own daughter is estranged.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Frankie makes some mildly sexist comments and initially refuses to do anything to help Maggie, though his opinion of her changes as the movie goes along. Helping Maggie kill herself after she's paralyzed also at least partially counts for this.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Frankie Dunn: So is Jesus a Demigod?
    Father Horvak: There are no Demigods, you fucking Pagan!
  • Retired Badass: Scrap, despite his old age and blindness in one eye, still knocks out a much younger Shawrelle Berry with one good punch.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": When Maggie breaks her neck on the corner stool in her fight with Billie.
  • Slow-Motion Fall: Used most significantly in the last fight with the fall that paralyzes Maggie for life.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Shawrelle Berry comes off as an arrogant loudmouth throughout most of the movie, but considering Maggie's dig at his poor performance in his last fight (which she only said because he was bothering her) and the fact that the elder, blind-in-one-eye Scrap easily knocks him out (granted Scrap was implied to be no slouch in his prime) suggest Berry is not nearly as good of a boxer as his arrogance would suggest.
  • There Are No Therapists: Towards the end, Maggie becomes so despondent that she attempts suicide by biting her tongue and begs Frankie to pull the plug on her. The hospital's first reaction is to keep her sedated 24/7 so she can't attempt suicide-instead of getting her the psychiatric help that she obviously needs.
  • Tongue Suicide: After she's paralyzed, Maggie tries to commit suicide by biting through her tongue.
  • Trashy Trailer Home: Maggie's family are portrayed as irredeemable jerkass trash who only want to get money out of her. They all live in trailers in the Ozarks, of which Maggie (the only person shown to be interested in escaping) is the only decent inhabitant.
  • Troll: After the first scene in which we see Frankie attending Mass, he is clearly enjoying winding up Father Horvak with questions about the Trinity: whether it means there is one God or three, if Jesus being the Son of God makes Him a demigod, and so on. Father Horvak's impatient reaction (capped by calling Frankie a "fucking Pagan" for suggesting Jesus was a demigod) makes it apparent Frankie has been doing this for years.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Maggie's mother and sister, who object to her buying a house for them for fear of losing their welfare and instead insist on money instead.
  • The Unreveal: We never learn what, exactly, Frankie did that drove his daughter away. Apparently it was so bad that he's made a point of attending Mass nearly every day for 23 years straight, and though he writes to her once a week, the letters consistently come back unopened and marked "Return to Sender".
  • Wham Line: When Maggie asks Frankie to let her die.
    Maggie: You remember what my Daddy did for Axle?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It wasn't clear if Billie was punished for permanently injuring Maggie. Granted considering her cheap shot is what led to Maggie's paralysis, it's safe to assume Billie was probably punished severely for what she did. Not the least being losing her boxing license.
  • Worst Aid: Frankie realizes how sub-par the quality of care is at the hospital Maggie goes to after her crippling injury and arranges to have her moved to a better one.
    • Pressure ulcers are completely preventable and are a sign of negligence. Developing one to the point of the limb becoming infected and needing amputation is a very low quality of care.
    • Likely a subversion, Frankie clearly wants to believe that the doctors are incompetent because they can't fix Maggie's spine. He eventually has to accept that she's just too badly injured to be fixed.
  • You Are Not Alone: Frankie says words to this effect to Maggie after she is estranged from her family.
  • You're Not My Father: Maggie aims this squarely at her mother and siblings, seeing right through their scheme to claim title to everything she owns and never working to help themselves. Having tired of their self-serving ways, she warns them never to return or she'd sell the house she still holds the title to.