Monday, March 14, 2005

Million Dollar...quitter...?

Drew at Darn Floor linked to this review, Judging 'Million Dollar Baby'. Ruth Harrigan is a quadriplegic, Meredith Gould is her aide.

Meredith: " Ruth is a quadriplegic. I am her personal aide. We want to see Million Dollar Baby."

Ruth: "Million Dollar Baby is up for an Academy Award in seven categories. It's about a female boxer who is coached by a curmudgeonly, old Catholic played by Clint Eastwood. Ultimately, the young boxer, played by Hilary Swank, sustains a severe spinal cord injury that leaves her paralyzed and on a ventilator. She asks her coach to help end her life. Eastwood's character, Frankie, finally agrees to do so after visiting his priest and searching his soul.
As I sat in my wheelchair watching the movie, I found myself thinking about how I felt after becoming a quadriplegic. Did I think about assisted suicide? Did I think my life was over?
The answer to both questions is yes. " (snip)

Ruth: "As a Catholic, I've had my own struggle with the right to die. I knew that taking my own life would be considered a sin. But, I also believed that the God who gives us life, takes that life from us at the right time. The good Sisters of St. Joseph taught me that life is a sacred gift. Stewardship of my physical body during this earthly life does not include subjectively deciding under what circumstances I will usurp God's will. " (snip)

Meredith: "For the purposes of critiquing Million Dollar Baby, I think we should sit separately." Ruth is okay with that. "I'll shout when I want M&Ms," she says.
We banter about how we might exit the theater afterwards. "I could wail about wanting to die," says Ruth. "I could audibly mumble, 'just wait until we get home,'" I reply. We crack up laughing. Laughter is good medicine that doesn't require an elaborate, convoluted form of administration. We're not opposed to weeping, which I maintain makes for a great complexion. Mostly, we laugh because we can't afford the energy-leeching luxury of anything else. (snip) Neither of us is laughing by the end of this movie. Grabbing our coats, I'm up and out of my seat as the credits begin to roll. I plunk myself down in the only seat left in an otherwise empty row reserved for wheelchairs and turn to Ruth.
"Able-ist crap."
She says it first and we immediately start tripping over each other's sentences: "Like that bedsore would've become gangrene without anyone noticing." "How come that swanky rehab didn't send in a team of psychiatrists and social workers?" "Did you catch how they draped a cross over her ventilator?" (snip)

I don't want people to boycott this film. I want them to see it even though—and perhaps because—they know the ending. And then, I want them to get angry, not at God, but about flaws in the structural apparatus of faith (i.e., religion) that would make assisted suicide seem an appropriate response instead of becoming a living witness to suffering. I want viewers to wonder why the character of Maggie Fitzgerald has the determination to become a prize fighter but not enough spiritual strength to manage life as a quadriplegic (emphasis mine,snip)

Ruth: It took nearly a decade for me to arrive at a place of acceptance. I've chosen life, believing that it's not my place to decide to die because life is too difficult, inconvenient, or no longer to my liking. Some may feel the choice to commit suicide is a form of ultimate freedom. What I know is that by surrendering my option to play God, I've lived long enough to learn that a life of dignity, usefulness, and hope is possible for a quadriplegic. If only the character in Million Dollar Baby could've stayed in the ring of life long enough to discover this for herself.

That is almost the entire article. Again: "I want viewers to wonder why the character of Maggie Fitzgerald has the determination to become a prize fighter but not enough spiritual strength to manage life as a quadriplegic." Why indeed? This film, ostensibly about courage and determination is easily upstaged by two real human beings, one of whom, in the same circumstances as Maggie Fitzgerald, chose not the easy exit of the quitter, but perseverance. Which of the two more deserves our admiration?

Addendum: These few lines from Yeats' poem, Lapis Lazuli illuminate the scene.

All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That's Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there,
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.

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