Hollywood is set to honor at the Oscars a violent film that culminates in murder. The Passion of the Christ? No, Million Dollar Baby. Hollywood couldn’t bear to see Jesus Christ suffer and die for man’s sins, but it watches with bated breath and an approving gaze as Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby kills a disabled female boxer with a grim efficiency worthy of Dirty Harry. Criminal euthanasia is an act of gratuitous violence that Hollywood will celebrate.
Normally fans of “obscenity,” Hollywood luminaries dusted that word off and used it as a criticism of Mel Gibson’s movie. He had “obscenely” and graphically depicted the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. How morbid, they said. But Hollywood’s taste for morbidity suddenly reappears in Million Dollar Baby, which lovingly presents an act of euthanasia that is so stark and shameless many doctors in the Netherlands probably wouldn’t even perform it.
A premise of the movie is that Clint Eastwood’s character, due to some nameless rift, has been estranged from his biological daughter for many years. This is intended to give added poignancy to his friendship with Hilary Swank’s character. The audience is left to assume that the daughter is an ungrateful brat who won’t even read his letters. But by the end of the movie, this unseen character’s aloofness seemed quite astute to me. She had good reason to stay away from a father capable of homicide.
“Hollywood Homicide” (the name of a Harrison Ford comedy) would have been a good title for Eastwood’s movie. Euthanasia is homicide that Hollywood can kid itself into considering the fulfillment of friendship. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk in Hollywood anymore (judging by celebrities’ faded MADD ribbons), but friends do let friends die — indeed, they kill each other. Injecting someone with poisonous drugs can be both the beginning and end of a beautiful friendship in Hollywood.
Naturally, Hollywood’s customary distaste for violence against women is suspended in this movie too. We’re supposed to view violence against women — isn’t that what female boxers pulverizing each other to the delight of cretinous males amounts to? — as a dream satisfied. And suffering worth endurance! But suffering through life as a disabled person? No, that’s suffering Hollywood won’t accept. Disabled groups are protesting Million Dollar Baby with good reason: the upshot of it is that they are better off dead.
A movie that is supposed to glorify friendship and victory shows neither. What it shows is false friendship and the defeat of the human spirit once Hollywood dreams are beyond it. Can’t be a female bantamweight anymore? Well, might as well get someone to kill you. Hollywood can’t conceive of a human life devoid of vanity and glamour as valuable. And the idea of suffering for sin, as Jesus Christ did, is even more repugnant to its sinless conception of itself, never mind that Hollywood showcases in its own movies the very sinful violence that Christ had to endure in order to expiate it.
The only suffering that makes sense to Hollywood is suffering for a worldly dream (taking blows to the head for boxing fame, etc.). But suffering for otherworldly reasons as an act of obedience to God? Unthinkable. Yet the disabled who don’t give up on life are witnesses to the truth that human life always has value, not because of the quality of what we do or what we dream, but because of what we are, human beings made by God. These disabled people are heroes. A paralyzed female boxer who abandons life and brings another human down into her despair isn’t.
Hollywood’s antipathy for selfless suffering means that it can at once romanticize the violence of euthanasia and suicide and turn away from the violence of Christ’s crucifixion. And because of its contempt for the Christian understanding of suffering, Hollywood can condemn Gibson’s movie as anti-Semitic while honoring one that belittles Catholicism. That is, Million Dollar Baby presents Eastwood as the wise apostate, making up the rules as he goes along, while the movie treats as a buffoon a Catholic priest who tells him that euthanasia is a sin. The audience knows not to take this priest’s counsel seriously — and to regard Catholicism as a grab bag of incomprehensible doctrines — because earlier in the film Eastwood has puckishly shown up the priest as a sputtering fool unable to explain basic theology.
In Hollywood’s culture of death, Million Dollar Baby is a natural Oscar winner, and The Passion of the Christ (which Hollywood in its comic superficiality has placed in the “best makeup” category) an obvious loser. As Christ predicted, the world considers his passion on the cross a scandal, the only scandal it won’t touch.
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