Understanding Characters – Frankie and Maggie You may be asked to explain why a character was important/interesting/inspiring/helped you learn something or think about something differently/you liked/helped you understand a theme etc… you have to be able to use that key word to focus your answer. You also need to be able to talk about the TECHNIQUES used to help you understand the character. (Always refer to speech as ‘dialogue’)
Frankie • Frankie’s story is one of redemption. His terrible relationship with his own daughter haunts him. He cannot escape his guilt and seeks comfort in the church. While he is not particularly religious the priest hits the nail on the head when he says; “I’ve seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person who comes to church that much is someone who can’t forgive himself for something”. Frankie uses the priest as an almost pseudo family member. He pesters him with pointless questions, obviously not seeking any real answers or salvation from the priest but obviously needing something. Is he looking for companionship or perhaps he hasn’t figured out how to ask for help or forgiveness yet. • The scene at the end when Frankie has his first serious conversation with the priest (asking for guidance about Maggie’s request) is the only time Frankie opens up and shows weakness; “It’s committing a sin to do it, But to keep her alive is killing her” he weeps.
As a traditional man (gruff father figure, struggles with affection, love and praise) the religious imagery of the Catholic Church represents the focus on guilt and the need for salvation/redemption Frankie has. (Catholicism and confession focus on this idea of having guilt and needing absolution from it) Frankie, however, doesn’t take religion that seriously and knows his decision comes down to his own morals, not those decided by the Catholic Church. As Frankie sits in a pew devastated by what has happened to Maggie, a crucifix engraved on the seat behind him symbolizes the weight on his back from the guilt he feels – he feels it was his fault this happened to her (even though it wasn’t). • This parallels the guilt her feels over Eddie losing the sight in his eye when he was a young fighter. Eddie had earlier explained to Maggie that Frankie “spends his life wishing he could take back that 109th fight”. Even though Frankie was in no way responsible for Eddie losing his sight in that last fight he’s carried the guilt of it ever since. While Frankie may seem gruff, cold and unloving, he in fact has an incredible capacity for love and kindness. As Eddie explains in the voice over which is in fact a letter to Katie at the end of the film “I just thought you should know what kind of man your father really was.”
Frankie’s relationship with the priest (often depicted in mid shot two shots to show the balance in their relationship) represents his struggle to find redemption. This is what people go to priests for, forgive me Father, for I have sinned… However, what Frankie needs forgiveness from is not a sin against God but a sin against his daughter, Katie. Father Horvak asks him at one point in the film; “Write your daughter?” to which Frankie replies “Every week.” This dialogue shows his determination to find forgiveness. However, close ups on his letters to his daughter in multiple shoe boxes all marked ‘return to sender’ show her rejection of him and his attempts at asking for forgiveness. • The only way Frankie can achieve his redemption is through doing right by his other ‘daughter’, Maggie, and granting her the freedom of death – allowing her to leave while she can still hear the cheers of people supporting her in the ring. Incidentally, Maggie also wears a silver crucifix necklace perhaps to symbolize the idea that she is the way to his freedom, forgiveness and redemption in a way similar to Jesus as a savior for Christian people.
Lighting plays a huge part in revealing Frankie’s conflict: • Frankie sits alone in the dark locker room when Eddie comes in to ask “You got a fight I don’t know about?” – Frankie is having a fight with himself – should I do this or not? The lighting is symbolic of that struggle between ‘good and evil’ ‘light and dark’. Father Horvak told Frankie earlier that afternoon; “If you do this thing you’ll be lost somewhere so deep you’ll never find yourself again”. This is what Frankie struggles with… can he live with killing her OR can he live with letting her die a slow and painful death. • Eddie continues to tell Frankie; “If she dies today, you know what her last thoughts would be? I think I did all right. I know I could rest with that.” All Frankie says is “Yeah”… Picks up his bag and leaves. • While he sits on Maggie’s bed before ending her life his face is half cast in shadows again to represent the conflict between light and dark – right and wrong. You can only imagine the pressure one would feel in a moment like this. As he sits with her an over shoulder shot casts his figure in silhouette to show the darkness he feels as he is about to take her life. While he knows it is wrong to take someone’s life (and he will have to live with that Old Testament sin on his shoulders) he couldn’t live knowing he let her die slow and painfully.
Frankie’s character shows us that family matters, family love, is complicated and not always as easy to solve as a simple right and wrong equation. This is particularly important when considering the role of parents in children’s life. They may not always do what is ‘right’ but they do try to do what’s best for their child. • Frankie’s love of Yeat’s Gaelic poetry is confusing to Eddie. When Frankie gives Maggie the pet name “Mo Cushlie” he won’t tell her what it means. He does in the minutes before her death; “Mo Cushlie means my darling, my blood.” This is significant because we can assume Frankie never told Katie he loved her (or at least not very often) or that he was proud of her. He has to use another language to say it to Maggie even though for the most part she doesn’t know what it means. It is significant he tells her before she dies because he wants her to know he loves her. He appreciates the beauty of the language but his own emotional stiltedness prevents him from communicating with those he loves – he has to do it in a foreign language. He spends his time reading and trying to figure it out as if he’s trying to figure out how to say things with meaning and affection. Perhaps if had said I love you more he wouldn’t have such a rift between him and Katie. Mo Cushlie is symbolic of the love he has for Maggie.
As a side: When Maggie tells him she bought a house “no mortgage, just like you said” for her mother, he smiles and tells her; “You’re a good daughter”. (This is interesting because she longs for love and appreciation from her own family but she never gets it – they never thank her for the house – but she gets it from Frankie). His smiles are rare but meaningful. He really does love Maggie and would be proud to be her father. • When Maggie asks at the end what Mo Cushlie means he tells her; “You didn’t win. I don’t have to tell you.” She replies; “You’re the meanest man I ever met. No wonder no one loves you. You remind me of my Daddy.” “Well he must have been a very intelligent, handsome man.” They tease each other back and forth but they are smiling and it is an affectionate scene. She does love him and Frankie knows how she loved her Dad and therefore knows what she is saying to him.
Maggie • Maggie’s story is one of determination and a desire for family love and acceptance. The voice over narration by Eddie describes Maggie at the start of the film; “She came from South Western Missouri… Set in the cedars and oak trees, somewhere between nowhere and goodbye. She grew up knowing one thing, she was trash.” And Maggie says of herself to Frankie; “If I was thinking straight I go back home and find a used trailer. Buy a deep fryer and some Oreos. Problem is this is the only thing I ever felt good doing.” Maggie won’t give up and her persistence is admirable. Frankie initially refuses to train her because “I don’t train girls” but she wears him down, along with some encouragement from Eddie. • Close ups of her earnest smile at Frankie and full shots of her endless training in the gym despite Frankie’s rejection show her persistence and finally win Frankie over. He has three rules; “Don’t argue with me. Don’t question me. Don’t come crying to me when you get hurt.” Maggie follows all these rules and in doing so endears herself to Frankie.
Frankie initially hands her off to a new manager, Sally, for her first fight and watches from the shadows. As she begins to lose the fight he can’t take it and steps up to give her advice. This shows his growing attachment. Sally tries to get him to stop and the referee agrees unless this is his fighter. Frankie pauses and says; “Yeah, this is my fighter”. The close up on Maggie’s face after hearing this dialogue is heartwarming. He has acknowledged her skill. Another rule Frankie teaches her is to always protect yourself. In the locker room after the fight he reminds her of this. She replies; “You gave me away. How’s that protecting me?” “It’s not” “You going to leave me again? “Never”. The strong silent type is often a feature of Clint Eastwood’s roles in his few lines of dialogue this is revealed. His is sincere and we feel his love for her. She is comforted. • Maggie later proves her love for Frankie when Mickey Mack is interested in taking her to a title fight and off Frankie’s hands, the same way he did with Frankie’s other successful fighter, Big Willie. Despite the potential to earn large sums she tells Mickey Mack “I ain’t never leaving Mr Dunn”. Showing her loyalty and that family is more important than money.
Maggie’s love and loyalty to her family is also shown when she buys the house for her mother to live in so she can move out of the trailer park. The mother is unbelievably selfish and ungrateful. Maggie tries to alleviate her stress over losing her welfare now that she has a house by saying “I’ll send you more money” several times. She really wants the approval and love from her family bet she never gets it. A mid shot of her handing the keys to her mother saying; “If you want the money. Sell it” and walking away shows her disappointment in her mother’s reaction. • Maggie mentions her father to Frankie several times with nostalgic memories. She always smiles as she recollects him to Frankie. She eats pie with Frankie at the diner her father liked to visit and tells Frankie she used to come here with him. The two shot of them sitting together at the counter reveals their closeness and Frankie stepping in as a father figure.
Two shots and dialogue in the car on the way back from visiting the mother also reveal Maggie’s connection to her father and her developing attachment to Frankie as a father figure. At the petrol station she sees a young girl and her dog sitting in a truck. Gentle music plays and she recalls a story of her father and their dog, Axel. He loved that dog but it got so sick he had to shoot it to put it down. Maggie then tells Frankie; “You’re all I’ve got” to which he replies; “Well, you got me.” Accepting this role in her life. • The dog becomes a symbol of love and sacrifice when Maggie goes to ask Frankie for the favour, she asks Frankie; “remember what my daddy did for Axel?” He knows immediately what she is asking him to do and a slow close up of his face shows the horrible idea dawning on him. Maggie is now the metaphorical dog and wants Frankie to ‘put her out of her misery’. Just as Axel was her father’s best friend, Maggie means just as much to Frankie as any loved one. Frankie will have to sacrifice what he believes of good and evil (in religious terms) to do what is inevitably right by Maggie.
She teaches us powerful lessons on love and family. Family isn’t always who you were born to or with. Sometimes you can make your own family and find the love and belonging that all humans need from other people when your biological family isn’t all it should be. Maggie is determined to succeed in boxing but also in love. She craves family love and acceptance so much and gets what she needs from Frankie. While her own family was concerned about her signing her money away to them so they would be looked after, Frankie is concerned about her ending her life the way she chooses and ending her suffering.
After Frankie grants Maggie her wish and Eddie is narrating his letter he hopes that Frankie found peace somewhere, somewhere “Set in the cedars and oak trees, somewhere between nowhere and goodbye” which is the exact wording of the description he gave earlier of where Maggie was from and we see a shot through a diner window of Frankie eating pie. Eating pie in the same diner he sat in with Maggie and wondered “I wonder if a place like this is for sale. I got a little savings.” He has gone somewhere she loved and felt at peace. We are left with the feeling that even though Maggie is gone and his daughter is still not speaking to him he knows he did right by Maggie. Maybe he is lost “somewhere so deep” like Father Novak said because now he is alone… but he can find comfort in the redemption he gained from saving Maggie from an ugly death. He helped her “get her shot” which most people never do, as Eddie reminds him in the dimly lit locker room.