Study Guide

Million Dollar Baby Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

We first meet Frankie in the boxing ring. Dunn's his name, and patching up bloodied boxers is his game. That's a semi-obnoxious way of saying he's a cut man. Scrap tells us that Frankie may be getting on in years, but he's still the best in the business.

Call to Adventure

Maggie asks Frankie to train her twice. The first time is right after Big Willie's fight. Then she infiltrates his gym and once again asks Frankie to be her guy. She's a tough lady to ignore.

Refusal of The Call

Twice Frankie refuses Maggie's request that he train her. The first time, at the arena, he tells her thanks but no thanks: he's not interested in training a girl. Gross! Cooties! Shortly thereafter, Frankie drives the point home at the Hit Pit by once again saying "No way, Jose."

Meeting The Mentor

So this step in Frankie's journey is a little complicated. Check it out: It's clear from the jump that Scrap is Frankie's best friend and sounding board. He's the one that Frankie gets advice from, whether he wants it or not. They've met long before the movie's narrative starts. Like twenty-something years before.

When it comes to Scrap's role in getting Maggie and Frankie together, though, it all kicks off when Maggie stays at the Hit Pit after hours, and Scrap gives her a few pointers and lends her a speed bag. When Frankie learns that Scrap is helping Maggie behind his back, that's when Frankie discovers Scrap's role in his journey.

In other words, Frankie's met Scrap the Best Friend before. Obviously. But he meets Scrap the Well-Meaning Meddler when he finds out that Scrap's totally #TeamMaggie. Scrap offers Frankie advice about Maggie, whether Frankie wants it or not, and he witnesses keys moments in their narrative.

Crossing The Threshold

On Maggie's 32nd birthday Frankie finally gives in and says he'll be her trainer. The fact that she gives a passionate speech about how boxing is the only thing she's ever felt good doing, and that, if she's too old to be a boxer, she's got squat, helps turn the tide. So does mentioning deep-fried Oreos. Mmm.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Once Frankie agrees to train Maggie, they have a lot of work to do if they want to make her a champion. So that's exactly what they do: they bust their butts. Frankie whips Maggie into outstanding physical shape and teaches her the boxing skills she needs to knock out the competition. Literally.

Then, when Maggie asks Frankie about his family, he passes her off to another manager. Not cool. But he quickly wins her back, becomes her manager for realsies this time, and promises to never leave her again.

Next, Frankie has Maggie fight lots and lots of people. And she knocks out lots and lots of people. Quickly. He also has to resist the temptation not to intervene in Maggie's troubled family life and cold-cock her terrible mother, Earline.

Throughout all of this, Frankie's tendency toward extreme caution is tested, too. When Maggie wants to move from four-rounders to six-rounders, for example, he pulls back. Ditto for when she wants to move up a weight class. But in each instance Frankie overcomes his anxiety and advances his #1 fighter's career.

And let's not forget Frankie's ongoing, thoroughly one-sided correspondence with his daughter, Katy. Talk about a test! Every week, he writes her a letter, presumably trying to atone for his sins and fix whatever drove her away. Every week, he gets a letter marked "Return to Sender" to add to his massive collection. (And we thought collecting rocks was depressing.) Still, he keeps on writing.

Approach to The Inmost Cave

When it comes time for the actual WBA welterweight title fight, Frankie falls back on his old ways and turns it down without even telling Maggie. See, the reigning champ, Billie "The Blue Bear" Osterman, is a dirty, dirty fighter. Ultimately, though, Frankie comes around and arranges the fight.

Ordeal

The word "ordeal" hardly seems adequate to describe what Frankie goes through when Maggie gets hurt in the ring. "Total nightmare" might be a step in the right direction. But here's the thing: good does come from it. In the wake of Maggie's accident, Frankie's challenged to hold it together—both for himself and for Maggie. In doing so, Frankie's reborn as an awesome, loving father.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Frankie's reward for staying strong in the face of an out-and-out nightmare is that he grows closer and closer to Maggie, his surrogate daughter. He makes her laugh. He reads her Yeats. He watches her finally muster up the strength to tell off her rotten family. They daydream about moving to a little cabin in the middle of nowhere together. In short, he loves her deeply, and she loves him right back.

The Road Back

For Frankie, the road back is the road to letting Maggie go. He doesn't want to lose her, and he knows it's a sin to help her die, but he also feels like it's a sin to keep her alive against her will. So he consults Father Horvak, who tells him: (1) He can't do it; and (2) If he decides to do it anyway, he'll be lost forever. Thanks for the pep talk, Father!

Resurrection

This step is all about Frankie facing death head on and conquering his fears—of losing Maggie, of committing a sin, of not following his one rule: always protect yourself. Frankie's spent decades protecting himself right out of relationships. When he helps Maggie end her life, his shields are totally down, and he's evolved into a vulnerable, loving, unselfish parent.

Return with The Elixir

Ordinarily, in this last step, the hero returns home a changed man. Frankie doesn't. He changes, big time, but he doesn't return to the Hit Pit. Ever. Scrap doesn't know why, but we've got two hypotheses, Shmooper. Based on his conversation with Father Horvak, it's conceivable that Frankie feels he can't go home. The sin he committed by killing Maggie is simply too great. On the other hand, as we spot what looks like Frankie at the counter of Ira's Roadside Diner in the movie's final shot, it's also entirely possible that Frankie's gone off to find a new home, like the little cabin that he and Maggie once dreamed about, and to find peace and homemade lemon pie.

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