Arts, Media, and Entertainment

Fighting for What’s Important

Spoiler Alert: This commentary gives away the ending for Million Dollar Baby. One of the favorites for this year's Academy Awards is Million Dollar Baby. The film tells the story of Frankie, a boxing trainer, and Maggie, a fighter he reluctantly agrees to train and eventually comes to love. The film has earned a "Best Picture" nomination, as well as nominations for director Clint Eastwood, who also plays Frankie, and Hilary Swank, who plays Maggie. It has also earned some well-deserved criticism for its handling of the most important question of all: what makes life worth living. For most of its two-and-a-quarter hours, Million Dollar Baby is a story about love and determination. Frankie and Maggie need each other because they both have something to prove, to themselves and to others. Under Frankie's tutelage, Maggie rises through the ranks of women's boxing. Then tragedy strikes: An illegal blow causes Maggie to strike her head against the stool. She's left as a quadriplegic. Frankie works just as hard at trying to help Maggie adjust to her new life out of the ring as he did helping her in the ring. But that's not what she wants. She wants Frankie to help her end her life -- which he does. Why? As Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote, it's not because she's in pain or even because she's depressed. Rather, it's because "she can't bear to be a has-been." In the moral universe of the film, "anyone who comes to the end of their 15 minutes of fame is justified in seeking suicide." The idea that, as with my friend, Joni Eareckson Tada, life goes on even after paralysis -- and is even richer, perhaps -- is alien to this universe. Given what this says about the quality and worth of the lives lived by the disabled, it's not surprising that disability-rights groups have protested the film. You might not expect anything different from Hollywood, but there is one alternative. The new Fox hospital drama, House, tells the story of a diagnostician named Dr. Gregory House. He's not what you would call a "people person." As he says, "humanity is overrated." Add the fact that he is in constant pain, which causes him to pop painkillers like candy, and you've got the man who put the mis in misanthrope. And while House dislikes people, he hates death. Thus, he has no patience with people like Maggie who won't fight as hard to preserve the gift of life as they did in less important pursuits. When patients say they want to discontinue treatment and die, House calls them "idiots" and disputes their sentimentality about "dying with dignity." Death is always messy and always represents a waste -- so much so that he even disregards the occasional "do not resuscitate" order. Instead of hastening death, he insists on "practicing medicine for a change." Exactly. While Christians shouldn't fear death, we don't prefer it to life. Like Dr. House, we know that death is an interloper. There comes a time to let go of life; but only after we've put up a good fight worthy of the gift of life. Because Maggie didn't understand this, her life, like her death, was a waste. She didn't die a "has-been," but a "never-was" who refused to embrace this most glorious of all gifts, life.


Chuck Colson


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