[Note to readers: this is not a film review, and rather thoughts on Disability and how the topic was portrayed in films.]
Maggie (Hilary Swank) is 32-year-old daytime waitress and nighttime boxing fighter. She convinced Frankie (Clint Eastwoods) to become her trainer after showing him her determination, perservaton as well as innate talent after a few games. Frankie was the experienced trainer of famous fighters, who was known for his protective and cautionary approach to training. As a result, many of his previous trainees left him for more exciting opportunities at high-stake competitions, even at the cost of severe injuries.
The relationship between Frankie and Maggie soon grew from teacher-student to what seems more like father-daughter dedication. This impression was reinforced by the fact that Frankie has been writing letters to his daughter Katie (who was not present in the movie) and we learned that Frankie had lost her trust, of which he sought redemption by going to church everyday for the past 20 years. To Maggie, Frankie played the figure of her late father who she mentioned often with dear love and nostalgia. In her first championship game, which Frankie let Maggie partake after much contemplation, Maggie entered the game against Billy Blue Bear who was notorious for her foul and dirty tactics to win the games at the cost of severe injury or even death of her opponents. In a tragic moment when Maggie turned away - her hand guard off - after giving Billy a knockout, she was punched hard from the side by Billy and fell towards the floor, her head hit against the stool and contracted severe spinal cord injuries. She was hospitalised afterwards and became quadripled. Frankie became her sole caretaker, even before the family came and tried to trick her into signing off a statement that granted them all of her property in the event of her death, which Maggie furiously declined. Her emotional state worsened quickly afterwards, and she revealed to Frankie her wish to have assisted death. After painful contemplation, Frankied agreed.
I watched the movie as part of an assignment for a class that focused on Disability and Society. The disability plot twist (Maggie became quadripled) didn't occur until the last half-hour, but it was essentially the most significant event of film. The films received as many praises as critics, especially from people with disability, who even organised a protest during the film's screening week, for how it handled Maggie's disabling condition. Why, they asked, didn't the movie talk about opportunities for Maggie to lead productive life after the incident? The depiction of Maggie's hopelessness and her determination to die was illustrative what people without disability imagine of the experiences of those with disability - a life not worth living, whereas Frankie's decision to assist in her death was seen as promoting and romanticising killing of people with disability whose life was seen as worthless.
Having absorbed all these comments and arguments, I wanted to stay true to my immediate feelings after watching the movie, that it was a difficult one to watch, but a good one. There were more to Maggie's decision than just disability: Her condition in the hospital was terrible. The question was: Was that true? Was that actually what was going on in the hospital? Was they receiving highquality treatment? And there were more to Frankie's decision: he was aware of possible options for Maggie and he has been her caregiver, but he changed his mind after witnessing Maggie's attempt to bit her tongue to death. He was essentially helpless and hopeless in making life better for her, and it was painful to see her suffer. That was a reality.
The way I read the message was that: It could have been better. The current system was problematic and I was pretty troubled by the fact that she didn't receive adequate individualised care and habilitation. But the unfortunate reality was that it could be costly, and they could not have afforded these measures to improve her current state. Maggie could have received support, especially emotional and psychological support to help her adjust to her new condition. Because I am aware of these issues, the way I read the message is that: This is the reality, and we are aware that other options are available but it were not made available to Maggie and that's why she had to die.
But then I realised that, it was unlikely that many other people were aware that alternatives exist, and the message they read was, like what the protesters said, disability means better off dead.