Million Dollar Baby
This is an extract from the full piece.
Maggie idealized a family who really didn’t care about her. Hers was a family too self-centered to care for anyone or anything but themselves. Not wanting to see that painful reality, Maggie glorified both them and her past, denying reality as it is. The look of disbelief in her eyes and the sound in her voice when she finally sees her mother for who she is, saying, “What happened to you Mama?” struck like the silence after an argument. All the illusions of childhood and fairytale happy endings dissolved in that moment in a collective sigh of disbelief.
We all look through the world through rose-colored glasses and when we take them off, discover a world we’d rather not see or live in. Until it becomes apparent that seeing people and things for who they are, is much more satisfying then living in our fantasies. Sometimes it is scary to change old habits, but Maggie is up to the challenge.
In contrast, Frankie Dunn’s guilt and lack of self-forgiveness concerning his own daughter is what fosters the deepening of his relationship with the “surrogate” Maggie. Instead of letting this new relationship release him from his past, it only deepens his non-relationship with his real daughter. He keeps all of her returned letters in a box in his hall closet, perhaps under the illusion that some day (maybe at his funeral, or when she comes to sell his house), she will read them. It’s easier for Frankie to hang on to the belief that if he just did something different, he could change the past, rather than accept the present as it is, as Maggie does. By not forgiving himself or his daughter, he stays attached to the illusion that some day it will work out the way he wants. But we know, even if he doesn’t, that it never will. Denial is a powerful thing.
Addicted to his own defenses to avoid feeling pain, Frankie can’t forgive himself for anything he feels he has done (Morgan Freeman’s damaged eye) or for who he is (a man whose own daughter returns his letters). This is really the Eastman film that deserves the title Unforgiven. Ultimately, the only letter his daughter might read is the one Eddie Dupris writes to her throughout the film. And of course, that is the only one worth reading.