Three days after the Times' Tim Rutten castigated movie reviewers, Patrick Goldstein writes in his Calendar column that conservative commentators attacking the treatment of euthanasia in Million Dollar Baby are "guilty of knee-jerk political correctness." The film, of course, is made by and stars longtime Republican Clint Eastwood, but Goldstein says:
By and large they've reacted to the movie as if it were a starry-eyed drama with Barbra Streisand and Sean Penn as Marxist history professors indoctrinating coeds in the theory of evolution....
[Michael] Medved has led the charge, blasting the film (and to filmgoers' horror, largely giving away its ending) on CNN, "The O'Reilly Factor" and "The 700 Club," calling it "an insufferable manipulative right-to-die movie." Rush Limbaugh chimed in, dubbing the film "a million-dollar euthanasia movie." Debbie Schlussel, another conservative talk-show host, called the film a "left-wing diatribe," claiming it supports "killing the handicapped, literally putting their lights out." And Ted Baehr, head of the Christian Film and Television Commission, described the film to Sean Hannity as "very anti-Catholic and anti-Christian."
It would be easy to write off these attacks as the ravings of people who probably think there are hidden North Korean missile plans embedded in "Shrek 2."....But the assault on Million Dollar Baby by Medved is not as easy to dismiss. A self-described conservative whose new book, Right Turns, argues that conservatives are "both happier and nicer" than liberals and that "a more Christian America is good for the Jews," Medved wields considerable clout, via his commentaries, which run in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, and his popular radio show, which airs here weekdays on KRLA-AM (870) from noon to 3 p.m.
Goldstein's bottom line —"what's really depressing"—is that Medved and others are judging a film by its politics, not its art: "Medved's ideology often gets in the way of his better judgment.... For Medved, when it comes to Hollywood, there's a wolf behind every door. But in his eagerness to further his brief against Million Dollar Baby, Medved betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose of art. It doesn't exist solely to reinforce our faith. The most powerful art, from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Scorsese, seethes with provocation; it stirs our passion; pricks our conscience and tests our most firmly held beliefs. Medved seems to have forgotten that art isn't fair and balanced — it comes in shades of gray, and two sides of every argument are not always given equal weight."
* Reaction to Rutten: Henry Sheehan, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, responds on his website to Rutten's Saturday column. He writes, in part:
I have enough respect for Rutten that I hope I haven’t misstated his argument; I don’t think I have. I do think, though, that he’s got it exactly backwards. To say that Million Dollar Baby is a movie about assisted suicide is to reduce criticism to mere journalism – a buyer’s guide – and thus to the language of commerce. And it’s to reduce film to the status of a newspaper in general and an op-ed piece specifically.
A successful work of art isn’t merely a discourse on a single social topic, even when – as in the case of a political work such as The Battle of Algiers – it appears to be exactly that. Million Dollar Baby is a spontaneous event that occurs and reoccurs every time an individual watches it because, rather than engage an issue, it plumbs the nature of human experience. By its very nature, that experience is evanescent.
Spoiler alert: Sheehan goes all the way in describing the plot and ending of Million Dollar Baby, so if you care about that don't read his piece.