The Critic Dilemma.
I have already committed the mortal sin of movie critiques: expose the ending of a movie while discussing its social impact. So for those individuals who have yet to see Million Dollar Baby, then this is a spoiler alert. Wait until you see the movie before reading this. I will expose the ending in making my point!
Now that is over, back to the Critic’s Dilemma. Million Dollar Baby spends the last quarter of the movie dealing with assisted suicide. It is hard to discuss this movie fully without exposing the ending and many of you raked me over the coals for that. Yet, not to discuss the ending essentially ends the debate about an important social issue. You are left with judging the acting or script writing without examining the artistic intent.
The Critic Dilemma is simple. Expose the ending and you piss off the moviegoer. Fail to expose the ending and you basically leave out one of the central theme of the movie. Some critics did expose the ending basically because they disagreed with the action of Frank Dunn. They wanted the movie to fail at the box office. This was not my intent since I recommended the movie, in spite of my disagreement with the ending. Others fail to expose it because quite frankly, they agreed with the action of Frank Dunn and Clint Eastwood’s viewpoint. They wanted a wider audience to see how deftly Eastwood handled this issue and deftly he did.
I happen to oppose assisted suicide but the purpose of this essay is to examine how Eastwood did handle this issue. While I oppose what the main character Frank Dunn did, this movie is still a great movie and worth watching. Why? Simple, Eastwood did not disparage the opposition viewpoint but respected it.
So how does he do that? Frank Dunn is a devout Catholic who goes to Church every day. He prays and while he likes to tweak his Priest’s nose on occasion, he believes. When Maggie asks him to kill her, he first refuses for it runs against his grain. For him it is a sin.
When he sits down with his Priest, he had made up his mind to follow through Maggie’s request. The discussion with the Priest is poignant and on target. The Priest responses are not those of some fanatic but a defender of 2,000 years of tradition and faith. The Priest makes his Church’s point elegantly and Eastwood does take those ideas seriously.
The Priest warns Dunn that if he does go through with this, he will be lost forever. And on this score, the Priest proves prophetic. Dunn gives up everything including his gym and reconciling with his estranged daughter. We are left with a man who has lost everything.
Eastwood’s point is there is a price to be paid for ones decision in life. When Scrap fought in his 109 fight and continued to fight when it was lost, he paid the price with the lost of one eye. A price paid for a decision made.
The critic dilemma is that you can’t discuss the ending then you must wait until several weeks later to deal with the issue. So how does a critic directly challenge the artist’s worldview if you are not allowed to debate the issues directly? Or is it the critic job to view the political and cultural content of the movie? Should the critic merely concentrate on the quality of the movie and allow the audience debate the content?
Roger Ebert’s points about the quality of the movie is on target but he ignored essentially the last quarter of the movie and a major issue. Ebert’s counterpoint is let the audience see the movie and let the audience decide. Call it the Fox version of “We review and You Decide” of film critique. Ebert’s view of the critic in this case is that the critic needs to step back and allow the debate flow without his or her viewpoint added.
The artists may have many different reasons for the art they produce. Some movie producers use the camera lens to comment on his or her society; others merely produce films to entertain. The critic dilemma is when does the critic comment on the ideas of the artist? Or as my daughter reminds me, when does the critic institute a Spoiler Alert?