Redemption in Million Dollar baby


Because of a serious sin committed years ago, Frankie is not allowed to live in peace. He is in a constant fight with himself, trying to set free from his guilt. Maggie’s arrival in his life is going to help him to find redemption. This religious theme is one of the central issues in Million Dollar Baby.


But what sin is Frankie hiding? Behind his apparent coldness and his self-protection he is suffering. His daughter has been punishing him for years with her silence, refusing him any contact. Actually he writes to her regularly, but the letters are systematically returned to sender. Did he leave her when she was young? Or did he have problems with her mother? We don’t know since this is left to our imagination.


To set himself free from this fault, he goes to mass every day. However, he does not seem to understand religion: through verbal and theological “duels” with the priest, he keeps a game of provocation. We can feel a strong irony in all his questions. Even the priest knows that Frankie is trying to clean his conscience: “The only person that comes to church that much is the kind that can’t forgive himself for something”. That game could be related with Clint Eastwood's Protestant background of. In fact we notice a certain mockery toward the Catholic Church. He questions the Trinity and the Immaculate Conception which actually do not exist in his faith.


When Maggie enters his life, everything is about to change. She is the path to the deliverance he has been looking for for years. This key encounter is stressed by using lights, music and the face-to-face scene.

At first, Frankie’s non-commitment does not allow him to open his heart. “Always protect yourself", the first lesson he gives to his future boxers, is the dogma of his life. In fact he is afraid of any kind of relationship. Nevertheless, Maggie's determination to become a fighter convinces him to train her. This is the beginning of a very special link between them: a singular father-daughter relationship in which both learn from each other. On one hand Maggie, a lost young woman, admires Frankie for his experience. On the other hand, Frankie considers her as his missing daughter and as a real challenge. For the first time, he manages to take somebody to victory on the ring.


Unfortunately, the situation turns into tragedy. After Maggie’s accident he is confronted with a hard decision: whether she should go on suffering, or whether she should die. First he is very confused and he does not agree with euthanasia. Since he has no family to support him in this difficult situation, he looks for an answer at the church. However the priest’s advice is not enough for him. He realizes that Maggie has reached her goal and is happy now. Overall, she cannot stand the idea of being stuck in bed after such success. He will finally follow his heart, accepting to disconnect her from her life-support machine.


Is that a sin or a proof of love? There are some who support religion: they do not accept that a man take life from another one; and there are some who consider this as the best proof of love: giving death to a beloved person to stop her suffering but at the same time losing her.

His decision is a paradox because he finally finds redemption without religion, turning his back to the Catholic Church and stressing, once again, the Protestant belief that there is no intermediary between men and God. In fact, redemption can be reached by acting with love and courage. This is a double deliverance because Maggie is freed from her agony as well.

Contributed by Victoria Martini and Wendy Medrano









Religion in Million Dollar baby


Freedom of thinking, of searching in order to understand one’s faith is an old Christian concept. Frankie never finds any fault in asking questions on religious matters which apparently are very embarrassing for the priest. His quest for reconciliation with his “lost” daughter, his endless questioning or confrontations with the priest on the big mysteries of religion, his own doubts, his favourite readings of Yeats clearly show that he is trying to work out solutions in order to understand his faith and the purpose of  his life which is slowly declining. Despite his fervent Catholic piety, there are no scenes of confessional sessions or mediation prayers with the priest in the film. Even though  the context and circumstances are favourable for things to be otherwise, faith still remains something which belongs strictly to the private sphere. It is indeed a Protestant heritage which has been portrayed on screen.  


The narrative form of telling the story with the voice-over in the background invite some parallels with the three Synoptic Gospels in the way they have been written. One has got the impression of listening to, and watching a parable in action. This old-fashioned story telling creates a powerful effect, in the same way the three Evangelists do. The narrator sounds like a disciple who is reluctant to openly enter the story-telling process as an eye witness. The fourth Evangelist did quite the same throughout the writing of his Gospel. In the end, both reports, St-John’s Gospel and Scrap’s voiceover commenting on his friend’s life, could mean in short:  “If that man did all these things, surely he can't have been a bastard!”


The role Maggie’s family plays in the film can easily be compared to the one played by the crowd in the Gospel. The pattern in “Million Dollar Baby” creates the same feeling as that conveyed in the New Testament. The crowd, represented by Maggie’s close relatives, is made of narrow-minded people. They think only of themselves.  As soon as they realise that their “yesterday hero” has other plans, they turn their backs to her, sending her to hell, like the Pharisees with Christ in the New Testament. How can one resist drawing a parallel with somebody else’s life, according to the Gospel writers ?


“Million Dollar Baby” has a lot to do with Christianity, for the central theme of the film is about death and resurrection with an absolute technical perfection. It is a magnificent story of total love which is no neurotic pathology but genuine self-giving, redeeming sacrifice. All things considered, the film could be watched, within limits, as a modern time allegory of Christ’s life.

Contributed by Jean-Claude Decastro, December 2005