Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Boxing the Straw Man

I have to get in at least one more Million Dollar Baby post (seeing as I doubt anyone will be talking about this film ever again in another week or so). It dawned on me last night that the storyline really went out of its way to make the Swank character’s life unbelievably pitiful -- poor, trailer trash, daddy’s dead and he’s the only one who ever loved me, scrimping dimes from a dive café’s tips to make ends meet. Wow – talk about every cliché in the book! And even after the accident – as if being paralyzed isn’t enough – they had to make a point to also amputate her leg, and have a desperate, over-the-top scene with the family all huddled around Swank’s bed, shoving a pen in her mouth, trying to greedily have her sign all her money over to them. Wow – it all really pulls at the heartstrings, doesn’t it?

But, is it realistic? Is the deck stacked that ridiculously against people in real life? Or was Swank’s character designed to draw on the sympathies of the audience by subtly lulling them into the “there’s nothing left for her to live for” myth?

We must watch movies with discernment. I know no one likes the party pooper who is always saying, “That would never happen in real life!” But it is a question that needs to be asked, especially in films like this where ethics that go against our cultural norms are being applauded.

We must watch movies with all of our “eyes” open (not just the ones in our head). Be consciously aware of the fact that the finale of a movie is grounded in all of the previous actions and decisions of its characters. So, when all of the scenarios, experiences, and outcomes of these decisions and actions are completely inconsistent to how the situations would really play out in real life – we have a problem. Undiscerning movie-goers leave the theatre questioning their current worldview, not even realizing that the outcome of the film was based on a dozen or more previous outcomes that never would have played out that way in a real-life situation.

Eastwood commits the “Straw Man” crime in this movie. A Straw Man argument is when a person ignores a person’s true position and substitutes it with a distorted or exaggerated viewpoint. Million Dollar Baby distorts and exaggerates the position that most quadriplegics have about the value of their lives. At the end of the movie, the “poor, miserable” quad who is put to death may appease a weeping audience, but it does not appease the real quads who, unlike Eastwood, have lived and experienced that life and know for a fact that despite all of the inconveniences and bad days, life is worth living. Life is a greater gift than two legs or boxing career. This is why rock climbers who get pinned under rocks in the middle of nowhere would rather painfully saw their own limbs off with a dull Swiss Army knife than be left there to die. We value our lives above everything and that is a fact that needs to be kept at the forefront of our minds before we walk into a movie theatre.

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