Helmed by Clint Eastwood, the “Man with No Name” of the Wild West himself, based upon ‘Rope Burns: Stories From The Corner’ by F. X. Toole, and driven by the vital energy of Hilary Swank in one of her career-best performances, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is a compelling and moving boxing film of massive vigor. Told in shades of darkness and guided by the baritone narration of Morgan Freeman, the story revolves around an unlikely mentor-disciple relationship between a boxing coach and his only female student.
The film won four Oscars in the year of its release and was widely praised by the critics, but beyond all the awards and accolades, this is a story of remarkable human resilience in the direst of times. Unfolding like a classical tragedy, the narrative follows a rising and falling curve, and the finality overwhelms the audience with numbing sadness. Some questions still linger on, and if you are looking for answers, let us indulge. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Million Dollar Baby Plot Synopsis
The early scenes introduce us to Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), an underappreciated, ill-humored, and agnostic Irish-American boxing coach running a worn-out gym. The story is told from a third-person point-of-view, driven by the narration of the one-eyed specter of Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), Frankie’s long-time friend and associate. Frankie coaches his star student Big Willie, but Big Willie has big dreams.
One day, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), from the “Ozark town of Theodosia, Missouri” turns up at Frankie’s door, hoping to learn boxing. Frankie dismisses her by saying that he does not admit females in his gym, and on top of that, Maggie is presumably too old. The negligence and hostility of Frankie, however, is not enough to stop the stubborn Maggie from her pursuit, and in no time, she makes a place for herself amongst the other trainees.
Maggie keeps practicing at the gym till late at night, and her determination catches the eyes of Scrap, who shows her a few old tricks. Big Willie transfers to established manager Mickey Mack. The conviction and enthusiasm in Maggie convince Frankie after all, and what follows is the compelling tale of an unlikely friendship between the two. Maggie is a gifted student and supported by the experienced mentorship of Frankie, she makes her presence known in the amateur league.
Gradually making her way upwards, she becomes notorious for taking out opponents in the first round while earning herself the moniker of “Mo Cuishle.” Maggie and Frankie tour from Amsterdam to Edinburgh, knocking out opponents among overwhelming fanfare. She saves up enough to buy a house for her chiding mother, who would rather have the money than the house. Then comes the titular million-dollar match that decides the fate of Maggie’s career.
With a shot at a league title, Maggie and Frankie fly to Las Vegas to face a dreaded opponent — defending champion Billie “The Blue Bear” Osterman, a prostitute-turned-boxer who has a reputation for using dirty tactics. In the aftermath of the nasty fight, Maggie’s spinal cord is damaged beyond repair, and she turns into a quadriplegic, not being able to walk, change positions, or breathe on her own. Maggie develops bedsores, and the doctors are forced to cut off one of her legs. Turning increasingly suicidal, Maggie bites her tongue off – and in the finality of events, Frankie is forced to take a drastic decision.
Million Dollar Baby Ending: Does Frankie Kill Himself?
At the end of the cinematic narrative, Maggie requests Frankie to take her life. Tormented, Frankie visits the church where Father Horvak warns him against committing the deed, professing that Frankie would lose himself forever if he goes through the ordeal. But Frankie finally makes the call and detaches the ventilator off Maggie. As Scrap notices from the dark corner of the hospital corridor, Frankie walks out of the hospital, and we don’t see him afterward.
Scrap waits for Frankie in the gym, but he never shows up. The finality of the film reveals that Scrap is writing the letter to Frankie’s daughter Katy, the daughter who would always return Frankie’s own letters. With the disappearance of the two protagonists from the screen, the audiences are made to feel a void. Frankie has no one in the world without Maggie, and as he pushes the adrenaline injection into Maggie’s veins, he effectually writes his own epitaph.
An ardent reader of Yeats and true to his Irish roots, Frankie reads Maggie lines from Yeats’ poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree,’ where the poet talks of living alone in “a small cabin” by the titular lake. Maggie asks Frankie whether he would go live in a cabin by the woods after he retires from boxing, but Frankie asserts that he would never give up boxing. In the end, Scrap ruminates that maybe Frankie has found peace in a little home amidst cedar and oak trees, but he admits that it is just wishful thinking.
We can be more certain about Frankie’s destiny if we probe into the meaning of the moniker that he gives Maggie. “Mo Cuishle” is a Gaelic word that literally translates to “my pulse,” and with his pulse gone, Frankie has no purpose to live. Moreover, shortly before the final denouement at the hospital, we see Frankie packing two syringes in his bag. While we see him using one of them, we feel that he has reserved the other one for himself. Therefore, we conclude that Frankie kills himself at the end.
Why Does Frankie Kill Maggie?
Frankie loves Maggie way too much to see her suffer the way she does in the second half of the film. The devastating fight with The Blue Bear leaves Maggie paralyzed to an extent where she cannot even breathe by herself. She is attached to a ventilator where oxygen is pumped into her body 24 hours. Once a dreamer and an achiever, she cannot stand the fact that now she cannot even change positions by herself.
But that is not the end of her suffering. Maggie has to lose a leg due to bedsores. In the end, Maggie pleads with Frankie to kill her, and when Frankie says that he cannot make that decision, Maggie bites her tongue off in a suicidal attempt. In the end, Maggie chooses to be euthanized like her dog Alex, and Frankie merely assists Maggie to relieve her of her suffering.
What Happens to The Blue Bear? Is She Disqualified?
Billie “The Blue Bear” Osterman is the one responsible for the end of Maggie’s career and her tragic demise. Previously a prostitute, The Blue Bear is known to be ruthless and dirty in the ring. Frankie sets up a title match for Maggie with The Blue Bear weighing the risks, but seemingly, he takes the opponent too lightly. In the first round, The Blue Bear wrongly elbows Maggie and incurs a penalty. The referee gives her a warning in turn. Although one of her eyes is injured, Maggie picks herself up and ably combats her opponent.
In the third round, as Maggie corners The Blue Bear with a few strategic punches, the referee calls a break and rings the bell. When Maggie takes her guard down, The Blue Bear catches her unaware and hits her from behind. In effect, Maggie falls on the stool and damages her spinal cord beyond repair. The Blue Bear punches after the ringing of the bell, and this is clearly unethical and a violation of sustained boxing rules. So, even if the story does not speak about The Blue Bear’s fate, we get the impression that she is disqualified.
Does Maggie Beat The Blue Bear?
As you may already know and as Maggie’s terrible mother asserts, she does not beat The Blue Bear. The Blue Bear resorts to unethical tactics, and Maggie loses the fight and her shot at the million-dollar title. But as the story reveals itself, Maggie rises to be a hero in the eyes of the audience even after her loss in the title match. Her indomitable spirit is the driving force of the film, and the audience cannot help but endow her with the winning title, not out of sympathy but because of her commendable dedication and the life force that governs the story.
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