Director Danny Boyle (photo at right) had produced a number of successful films in the past but in this new film, Slumdog Millionaire, he has certainly produced one of the truly best films of 2008. Slumdog Millionaire is truly a beautiful and dazzling film. The actors and actresses are all Indian but 90% of the film is in English with some subscripts for a few hindi portions.
Slumdog Millionaire powerfully deals with subjects like racism, jealousy, child exploitation and brutal conditions in the worst slums of the world and yet it manages to wonderfully entertain you. The end result is a fantastic love story. And Slumdog Millionaire could even help Hollywood learn a thing or two about how to tell a really great love story without all the sexual material placed at the center of the story. In typical Indian fashion the last scene has the two lovers beginning a kiss right when the story ends, thus leaving the physical passion to your imagination, a technique lost on modern filmmakers on the whole.
Based on a popular novel written by Vikas Swarup the movie portrays the story of an Indian teenager named Jamal Malik. Malik is on the verge of becoming a big-winner on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Jamal undertakes this amazing effort to win, as the viewer discovers toward the end of the film, more for the sake of finding his sweetheart Latika, than for the importance of the money itself. This premise makes the film a moving love story and a serious drama. The film even employs an appropriate use of humor now and then. What else can you ask for in a major motion picture?
A "slumdog" is the term for an orphan who survives in the slums of Mumbai, one if India's great cities. Having been to Mumbai twice in the 1980s I can assure you that the story of Jamal, and the context in which he becomes orphaned and raises himself along with his brother, is all too true.
In the story Jamal is within one question of winning 20 million rupees but the show breaks for the night. Jamal is taken by authorities who are intent on breaking him through torture in order to prove that there is no ordinary way he could be answering the questions put to him without help or a form of cheating. The answers to how he solves each question on the program are then unfolded to the viewer by means of "flashbacks" which take you back to Jamal's childhood and the story of his growing up in the slums. Soon you learn that Jamal coped with many problems, including gangs, slave traders and various elements of the underworld that threatened him at every turn. You also learn of how Jamal's brother took a tragically different direction with his life. But the one constant for Jamal is his love for Latika, whom he is determined to find after he has lost her. (Latika and Jamal met in the slums and helped to protect each other as they were growing up.)
Jamal returns, after a long and brutal night of questions, to answer the final question before 60 million viewers in an all or nothing challenge. At the very heart of the story is the question of how anyone comes to know anything about life or love? Jamal becomes, quite appropriately, a true underdog hero that anyone can root for in the very best sense. There is something quite refreshing about this "old" theme that is missing from most modern Hollywood films.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Slumdog Millionaire a 94% rating. This only proves that some professional critics, who often have no clue it seems for what makes for a great movie, agree that this is a truly great movie with a happy ending. Maybe that offends one or two of the cynics but it is how I read the reviewers oft times. Slumdog tugged at my heart in a powerful way. It moved me so deeply that I confess I shed a tear of joy as the credits rolled across the big screen. I promise you that you will like it. The film is rated R for violence and some language. I believe that it is appropriate for teens who see it with serious adults. It is two hours in length and I give it four stars our of four.
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A fine review of an excellent movie. My entire family went to see it on the 26th and were enthralled. Oh for a return to good storytelling!
It is a wonderful film. I wrote some theological riffs on it too over at Recovering Evangelical.
I, too, saw Slumdog Millionaire and was very impressed with it. Three things stood out for me:
1) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film in general release, at least in America, where so much of the story is set in the slums, as is a good portion of this movie’s first hour. Nor did the filmmakers sugar-coat their depiction of the slums (at least, I don’t think they did). The immediacy of these scenes brought home to me the reality of the deep poverty of so many of the world’s urban areas, helping me, at least for a while, to shake off my all-too-abstract understanding of these problems.
2) What struck me is how, behind each of Jamal’s answers, was a terrible, painful story. Further, Jamal used his knowledge not for money–the movie does a wonderful job of conveying his indifference to his winnings–but for love.
So consider the contrast with knowledge under Western secular modernity: the knowledge that our society tends to value most is that which falls into the orbit of Weber’s instrumental reason, and it is knowledge that is gained without much pain, at least relative to what we see in the movie. (How many people have risked their lives to learn how to solve a differential equation?)
3) Jamal acquired his knowledge in circumstances beyond his control. This contrasts again with our normative Western ways of acquiring “useful” knowledge. For him to answer even some of the easy questions, he relied not on what one picks up in school or in consumer or popular culture; rather, he came by this knowledge “accidentally,” as a result of his contingency–which, when cast in a theological light, is in the strongest sense providential. In other words, no schoolmaster could teach him the things that he knew and that were important.