Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I have an inverse reaction to hype. The more something gets talked up, the more buzz there is around it, the more pundits who exhort that I absolutely have to see it, the less inclined I am to bother with it … No, bother’s the wrong word. I don’t so much shut myself off against it, I simply shelve it as something I’ll approach later, months or maybe a year or two down the line. Let the hype and superlatives and the unrealistic expectations ebbs away. Thus ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. I’ve read so many glowing reviews, a couple of cautious ones, and one exceptionally well-argued piece that ravages it. I’ll wait a while. In the meantime, my thanks to Viv Apple for sharing her thoughts on the film.

When my friend Alex and I came out of the cinema after seeing ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, we agreed that the little inconsistencies and “what?” moments in the narrative were forgivable, because the whole thing was really a kind of fable. So in both senses of the word, it was a fabulous film.

Considering that it opens with a scene of excruciating torture in a police station - the first of many hide-behind-the-sofa scenes - it is perhaps strange that ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has been described as a “feel-good” movie. But as the film progresses, its atmosphere becomes more and more electric, like that of the ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ studios around which the story revolves. We know in our hearts that the main character, Jamal (Dev Patel) is bound to win his millions - but we don’t know how or why, and that is the crux of the matter.

This film is not afraid to go to extremes. Director Danny Boyle echoes the head-in-the-toilet scene in ‘Trainspotting’ with an even more disgusting one which I will not detail, which I could only watch by repeating to myself that the boy Jamal was actually covered in chocolate. Children are forced to work as beggars, some even blinded for the purpose, and yet we root for Jamal because he and the others somehow survive through it all to the up-beat ending of the film. But as I write this I can feel the discomfort of knowing that these kids are real, and this is a difficult feeling. The premise - that Jamal knew the answers to the ‘Millionaire’ questions through the experiences he’d had in his life - is dubious, and the happy ending even more so. But this is an attention grabbing fable, and should be judged as such.

by Viv Apple

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