British director Danny Boyle’s labor-of-love drama has become something of a sensation as the feel-good
movie of the year – well, at least as much of a sensation as an art film
about life in India with a mostly unknown cast can become.
don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I didn’t see the uplifting side of the
movie at all. Well, I guess I saw it, but I didn’t buy into it.
Personally, I found Slumdog Millionaire to be a horribly depressing
film. It was sad, dirty and tragic in a myriad of ways that no rote happy
ending can erase, nor can a completely inappropriate
Bollywood dance number over the closing credits.
know that Slumdog Millionaire is supposed to be about the power of
love and the strength of the human spirit to overcome terrible hardships.
However, to me it seemed to come down to a wish-fulfillment
over-simplification suggesting that if a boy survives on the lawless and
cruel streets of Mumbai slums, he can grow up to win 20 million rupees on a
TV quiz show.
Frankly, following the horrific hardships and death that our hero has
witnessed to get to that point, 20 million rupees seems like a pretty small
compensation. It’s like the Extreme Home Makeover school of charity
– shallowly trying to make up for a life of hardship and loss with a
McMansion and some cash and prizes.
However, in this case it is even worse. People died, were crippled and
suffered great hardships for this man’s happy ending. What happened to
their happy endings?
opens with alternating
scenes. A young Indian man named Jamal Malik is being asked questions on
the local version of the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Then we see him being asked the very same questions in a filthy cell and
being brutally tortured for the answers.
turns out that Jamal has run the tables on the show and they are convinced
he is cheating. After all, how could an uneducated street urchin turned
gopher know all these answers when lawyers, doctors and scientists did not?
Honestly, the questions seemed awfully easy. Granted, perhaps they would be
more challenging in India than they would be in the US or England, but I
could see any marginally-educated person making their way through even the
However, the police would not buy that simple explanation, so they force
Jamal to explain how he knows the answers to all these questions. This
leads to a series of flashbacks over the length of his young life exhibiting
how the little factoids were gleaned by him.
These past scenes were horrifying and heartbreaking. At about eight, Jamal
and his older brother watched their mother being bludgeoned to death by an
angry mob. They live on the streets for a while, together with a little
girl named Latika whose parents were also killed in the fracas.
slowly but surely are drawn into petty crime, vagrancy, begging,
prostitution, local mobs and eventually murder. Jamal falls in love with
Latika – even though they only spend a few weeks together as small
children before getting separated. He vows that he will get her back, but
life intrudes. She is forced into child prostitution and eventually becomes the
love slave of the local mob boss.
older brother moves from a life of petty crime to much more hardcore
offenses. He eventually becomes the right hand man to the crime boss.
Meanwhile, Jamal gets a job handing out tea to a bunch of pretentious
journalists. Despite the fact that he knew Latika
for a short time when he was seven and has seen her twice for
a matter of hours
in the past decade, he is still sure that Latika is the only one for him.
Even more amazingly,
the gorgeous adult Latika
seems to agree, but feels trapped by her
Jamal has no way to reach her, but knows
she likes the game show, so
becomes a contestant because he is sure she will see him and know how to
the end, even if he does get the money and get the girl, I’m not sure
Jamal’s life is one that anyone would want to emulate. The cost was way too
know the whole world has fallen in love with this movie.
It has become the movie critic darling du jour and
is an early
for lots of bling in the upcoming awards season. I know I’m in a
serious minority, but I have to be honest
to me, Slumdog Millionaire
wasn’t inspirational; it was all a huge downer.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 11, 2009.