Friday, December 12, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle (2008)
Clayton Kent lowe

Danny Boyle has a way of extracting joy, or at the very least hope, out of the most unpromising cinematic adventures. For instance, his earlier 28 Days Later—and now his Slumdog Millionaire. Okay, just a little bit of hope in 28 Days, where “hope” means simply trying to stay alive; but a whole lot of hope and joy in Slumdog, where “hope” means winning a million dollars.

Taking his cue from the slumdog young boy, Jamal, who deliberately falls into a waste pit so he can cut through a crowd and get his favorite movie star’s autograph, director Boyle immerses us in the hellhole of Mumbai’s (formerly Bombay) vast urban slum in order to spin out his rags-to-riches tale of Jamal Malik, an eventual TV quiz show winner.

As a child, young Jamal bonds in a three-way childhood tryst with his older brother, Salim, and a younger girl, Latika, who have all been orphaned by a Hindu mob. The three of them then advance their way through childhood and adolescence as they strive to work out their final destinies, which may have already been written.

The adventures that follow are integrated into the movie’s overall structure, beginning, out of sequence, with the 18-year-old Jamal (Dev Patel) being arrested, questioned, and then tortured by the Mumbai police.

It seems, as we soon discover, that the producers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire didn’t expect anybody to be able to win their TV jackpot, so they bribe the police to try to force contestant Jamal to confess that he’s being fed the answers.

The story flashes from the interrogation and torture scenes to scenes of the children’s early meeting in the slums, and back to the super-dramatic moments of the on-going quiz show, where Jamal keeps answering the questions that he hopes will eventually win him a million dollars.

Not avariciously motivated, however, Jamal actually agreed to appear on the TV show in the hopes that Latika (Frieda Pinto), from whom he’s long been separated, will see him on TV, and they’ll reunite once again.

Fast-paced and masterfully intercut from past to present and back again, the film’s frenetic camerawork and exuberant soundtrack help to make us forget the pains that life has inflicted upon these children and encourages us, instead, to celebrate their determination to triumph over their painful misfortunes.

Manipulative? You bet. A sugarcoated morality tale for the naïve at heart? Maybe. But, at the very least, no more than Dickens’s tales of orphans who survive and transcend the evil conditions they were born into—and none more so than the character, Oliver, who survived the slums of London in Dickens’s novel, Oliver Twist.

A glorious movie, Slumdog Millionaire will, nevertheless, not let us easily forget the horrors of Mubai’s dreadful slums, nor the ever-present ethnic and political dangers that lurk there to this day.

True to the spirit of Vikas Swarup’s novel (originally titled Q&A), Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire has become even more relevant in the wake of the terrorist attacks that occurred in Mumbai at the end of the month of November, 2008—which were, allegedly, carried out about by Muslim extremists in Pakistan.

(As edited by Kristin Dreyer Kramer and appearing under "films" at