Slumdog Millionaire: A Tale of Destiny in the Bustling Indian Slums
Jamal is a young Indian boy from the slums, who finds himself in the position to win a million dollars on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The police, the news, and even the host thinks he cheated, but the Indian people are inspired by this story, hoping he answers the last question correctly. The questions are obvious—how did a boy with no education and few resources make it farther than anyone else in the show’s history? How did he even get on the show? And why does he seem so disinterested in the amount of money at stake, and how it could change his life?
These questions fuel the flashbacks that make up Slumdog Millionaire, an entertaining fable of love and destiny set in modern-day India. Danny Boyle, after making a drug film (Trainspotting), a zombie film (28 Days Later), a kiddie fable (Millions), and a sci-fi drama (Sunshine), seamlessly switches genres once again—he may be the most versatile filmmaker in Hollywood. Slumdog Millionaire never soars to transcendent levels, but it doesn’t need to—it’s enormously engaging and very earnest. Most films recently refuse to do earnestness, since it’s far easier to make a “cool” film if your romance is self-aware, or laced with a twinge of irony. In this movie, however, violence is natural but never desirable, love is destined to come true despite all obstacles, and good will overcome in the face of evil in the long run.
Yet this film is full of unpredictable behavior. This isn’t your standard Hollywood fare where you can predict how the characters will act before they say their first word, the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black. Men must be killed to ensure these young boys’ safety, and the boys know it. Thievery is the only way for these boys to persevere and pull themselves out of the slums, and while Jamal doesn’t revel in the spoils of wrongdoing, he is unafraid to allow tourists to be robbed blind in order to help himself live a decent life. When the film gets to its conclusion, some will say it grows sadly predictable then—I disagree. Boyle is fulfilling the destinies written from the beginning; an unpredictable twist wouldn’t be true to the themes of the film. Just like the Titanic is destined to sink to the bottom of the ocean, Jamal is destined to… well, just because it’s destiny doesn’t mean it should be spoiled.
This film will remind many viewers of City of God, because of not only the kinetic visual style, but also the unflinchingly true performances by children capable of brutality. Boyle keeps the violence tasteful but strong enough to make an impact. All in all, the film is fascinating and keeps your eyes on the screen from start to finish, a thriller interlaced with comedy and romance– in a perfect world, this would be the type of film released in the summer, collecting enormous box office receipts. Think about it: men can get their violence, women can get their romance, the average joe can get his laughs and thrills, and the haughty critic can get his moral ambiguity and realistic depiction of impoverished people. While it’s really not the type of film that will be remembered five years from now the way that those special worthy films linger in your memory (unfortunately, Oscar hype will cause a great deal of backlash for this fun film), Boyle executes this story very well, and provides terrific diversion for 2 hours.
Sidenote: The same critics that hated the element of fate vs. coincidence in Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna are touting Slumdog Millionaire as a Best Picture candidate. Why?