Friday, March 24, 2006

A Hollywood Ending

Commentary by Martin Kelly
February 1, 2005

Now that Ronald Reagan has died, perhaps the time has come for the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to honour him.

It would be nice to think they would do that, but they probably won’t. Hopefully the serried ranks of glitterati will at least clap politely when his name and image appear on the roll call of those who have passed away in the preceding year. Even if the Academy did award him a posthumous honorary Oscar, Nancy Reagan would possibly use the ceremony as a platform to plead for more funding for stem-cell research instead of simply enjoying the belated recognition being given to the most important actor who ever lived.

Such a plea would be completely in line with some of the Oscar nominations that were announced on January 25. If you read on, expect spoilers.

This year’s nominations show what the Academy is really concerned about, and it’s one of the most morally ambivalent ever. The movie being tipped to sweep the boards is ‘The Aviator’, dealing with, of course, the life of Howard Hughes, who, during his public years, seems to have been sexually incontinent. Laura Linney has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress for ‘Kinsey’, a biography of sexologist Alfred Kinsey, a man of whom it could fairly be said he did more harm than good.

America’s years of exposure to Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan and John Derbyshire should have taught it to be very wary of Brits being serious, and the plucky, worthy and serious little Brit-flick ‘Vera Drake’, whose eponymous heroine is a sympathetic abortionist, has won three nominations.

Having moved seamlessly through the whole spectrum of the left-wing agenda for the social manipulation of the body, the nominations glide to the other end of the human timeline. One Best Picture contender, ‘Million Dollar Baby’, and a Best Foreign Language contender, ‘The Sea Inside’, both deal positively with the ‘right to die’, i.e. euthanasia.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘a Hollywood ending’.

There are those in the movie industry who will justify this list by using Jerry Springer’s formulation, that his show simply holds a mirror up to society. In some cases, that might be true. They will say it reflects the concerns of the real world.

But those who have the talent and then the privilege of being able to put their work forward for release to the public have a particular duty of care in relation to its content. ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is a particularly powerful case in point.

The career of Clint Eastwood as actor and director shows him to be a story-teller, not a message deliverer, although Warner Brothers, the studio behind ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and Eastwood’s constant partners, have a history of producing socially-conscientious drama dating back over 70 years, back to the days of ‘20,000 Years in Sing-Sing’.

‘Million Dollar Baby’ is Eastwood’s first real message movie, apart from some throwaway lines in ‘Magnum Force’. There is no innocence, no artistic challenge, in Eastwood’s selection of this project. A veteran of his experience and power within the movie industry knows precisely what they’re doing when they make a movie portraying a conflicted Catholic, presumably from a generation particularly risk-averse to mortal sin, committing what their Church teaches is murder.

His character’s compassion for the crippled boxer will be held up as the reason why Clint pulls the plug. But the very fact that a movie personality of his experience and status has made such a movie only provides succour for those who would seek to make euthanasia legal under all circumstances.

If ‘Million Dollar Baby’ wins, then of course the public will be treated to inches and inches of newspaper interviews by Eastwood and others saying how important the subject matter was. But this is the world in 2005. In the times in which we live, no opportunity for propaganda is ever lost, even if it’s down at the multiplex, and it has to be recognised as such.

George W. Bush’s re-election seems to have been effected on a false prospectus, that his electorate perceived him to be a social conservative. He certainly hasn’t broken much sweat attending to their concerns since November. The inaugural address was so light on social conservatism that a number of his voters who maybe heartily disagreed with him on Iraq but who wanted to keep the Democrats out because of their collective association with the culture of death must be feeling short-changed.

But these nominations are Hollywood’s slap in the face to the American people for having the temerity to re-elect their President, and the American people are thus doubly suckered – once by the President and again by their icons.
A win for ‘Million Dollar Baby’ would be a real Hollywood ending - for Jack Kevorkian.