Monday, February 07, 2005

Million Dollar Bruhaha

Disclaimer: I have not seen either Million Dollar Baby or The Sea Inside (they're both in my Netflix queue), but I'm going to spout off about them anyway. Spoilers ahoy!

After taming down the Super Bowl to nearly G-rated levels, apparently the right wingers in the culture wars are now going after tragic endings to major motion pictures. Various pundits, wayward film critic Mike Medved included (next time some Hollywood type pipes up about some issue, I don't wanna hear anything about their "qualifications" - who appointed Medved a valid social critic?), are attacking the Clint Eastwood film Million Dollar Baby (and, less so, the Spanish film The Sea Inside) for "promoting" assisted suicide. One of the main characters in Baby is paralyzed from the neck down and asks another person to help her die. After much soul searching, he does just that. This pisses off a whole range of people, from the fundies to the disabled-rights folks, who cling to the mantra that life, any life, is worth living, regardless of the wishes of the person actually living it.

While Medved and his ilk no doubt view this as 0ne front in the broader "pro-life / pro-choice" debate (as this Chicago Sun-Times column argues), folks like Not Dead Yet argue that the film promotes the convenience killing of the disabled. Granted, I haven't seen the film, but as I understand it the character who dies in the end makes her choice perfectly rationally. If that's the case, than I can only think that NDY and similar organizations are looking for cheap publicity. Nobody seriously argues anymore that there are groups of people who, because of their disability, should be euthanized. That idea went out with the Nazis. The issue seems to be whether a competent human being has some right to control her own destiny. In that case, it's none of NDY's (or Medved's) business what she and those around her does.

Life is not the same thing for everyone. Some people are so wrapped up in the wonder of it all that they would never think of killing themselves or "giving up" if faced with a disability. Others, however, who have lived with the pain and grief of their own disability may think differently. And it's not anyone else's place to tell them what they feel is wrong or that life (as the activists conceive it) really is worth living. As much as cliche would like to differ, you can't really walk a mile in someone else's shoes. When it comes to these kinds of very personal choices, the only person who can completely comprehend the enormity of the choice is the person making it. Maybe we need a refresher course on John Stuart Mill in this country?

On a somewhat related note, Roger Ebert takes issue with critics who have given away the ending of Baby in order to condemn it. While he makes some excellent points about the difference between characters doing what makes sense to them versus what we want them to, I'm not sure I agree about the spoilers. Maybe it's because I do must of my movie viewing on DVD months (or years) after a film is released and, therefore, find it hard to avoid spoilers. But a really good film should still touch you, move you, or provoke you whether you know what happens going in. Why it happens, and what motivates the characters to do what they do, is infinitely more important.

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