on the beaming recommendation of a friend, i saw this film today. sorry to those of you who wanted to come to kc and see it with friends--this was a date with my mom. i wouldn't be opposed to seeing it again though, and if you see it in any manner i recommend seeing it at the tivoli.

i won't praise it anymore on the outset or encourage you to see it--john's should be sufficient. but it certainly left me with a few thoughts i wanted to share.
warning: spoilers to follow.

this movie was beautifully done in many respects, but i want to focus on the story. to call it shakespearean would not be unfounded--in characters as well as story. it's epic, telling coming-of-age stories of two characters (jamal and salim--my favorite character in complexity), divided into specific chapters. but there is decidedly one way that it is not shakespearean: it is not a comedy nor is it a tragedy.

as the end was approaching, i found myself wondering what was going to happen. it certainly was not predictable. would he get the final question right? would he win a million dollars? i suppose the title could have given it away--but then it also could have been a metaphor, making a point about what makes someone truly rich. the question came up, he didn't know the answer. i thought he would miss it, but really not care. he wasn't so interested in money. in would be a tragedy of sorts, but lesson learned and moral point made. jamal would still be plenty happy. but then i remembered, this is an indian film i am watching (sort-of).

not to over-generalize, but from what i've heard of a lot of indian movies, especially those from bollywood, there is a mass appeal toward happier, almost quaint stories. i'm sure this is a gross assumption and drastically uninformed--but let's just assume that i have some sort of point here. and that point is that there is a cultural difference in what people want to see in their movies. people in india want to see a happy ending; people in america want to see tragedy (again, forgive the generalizations).

i don't know enough about indian culture or many other cultures to know what it is about the west that values tradegy more than others--but it does. my fiction writing professor said, we have to write about bad stuff, because bad stuff is interesting. people don't want happy stories, largely because their lives aren't happy. that may be his own generalization, but he for sure has a point. there is truth in that. and if things are going to end well for someone, they better well have earned it throughout the story with enough suffering and pain to pay for it. that is the general rule.

let's look at the films that won best picture since 1990. 13(+/-1) out of the last 18 winners are tragedies, including the last 4. there is something we love, and find particularly profound, in a great tragedy. is it really because we aren't happy in our own lives and so we don't want to see it for others? are we that self-centered that another's happiness doesn't bring us joy? no, that's not it. or is it more that we don't want to see it in a fictional story because we have experienced enough disappointment in our lives to kill our belief that happy endings are in any way realistic? "fairy tale" pretty much is a synonym for "make-believe."

now jamal had his fair share of tragedy, and in that sense for the audience perhaps he "earned" his success. that makes it work for westerners. but he was no genius. and the theme of the movie is not that he earned it at all. he received it because it was his destiny--it was written. do we believe in a good destiny being written for us? if we believe in destiny at all. and yet, jamal only got anywhere close to as far as he did because of the devious actions of his brother salim--which were both a curse and a blessing for jamal.

do we see the tragedy too much? have we lost our belief that life can really be a fairy tale? is that a good loss? a loss of naivety, or a loss of innocence? do we find hope in a story like this? or do we distance ourself from it with the thought--nothing like that would ever happen to me. tragedy is more "real," that's why we resonate with it. is it though?

where do you choose to find your reality?


  1. Do you have this book, Telling the Truth...? If so I'd like to borrow it sometime this semester.

  2. Luke, I am with you on your analysis. I have a great deal more to say about Slumdog, I am just waiting until hopefully a few more have seen it. It is a very thought provoking film.

    And I am glad you liked it. I have decided I cannot be friends with those who don't. A man has to draw the line somewhere. Mine is at a movie. Some would call this shallow, I call it efficient.


  3. Well, I suppose since two of my friends have now seen this movie, and have had quite a lot to say about it, I suppose I will have to go watch it so I can talk about it too. :)

  4. okay first,
    i recommend seeing it at the glenwood.
    i think it probably needs the local support a little more than the tivoli,
    but that's just personal loyalties and opinion.

    99% of bollywood movies have full circle, family friendly stories.
    but slumdog millionaire (millonaire) is an american made, american targeted, fox searchlight movie directed by all american danny boyle.
    actually he's british.

    but i would agree with the happy ending indian story being caused by culture since the novel the movie's based on is written by an indian author. but this movie is really pretty far from bollywood... since it's definitely not a family friendly movie and it only has a tag on choreographed dance. WITHOUT singing. bollywood fans would not appreciate that.

    oh but it did pay tribute to amitabh bachchan, the biggest actor in indian history.
    so bollywood points go there.

    but the whole british/western director brings me to my third point.
    indian movies are happy,
    american movies are tragic.
    what the heck does that make french movies?

    i don't mean to lambast about the movie, but i thought i needed to discuss some of it.

  5. yes this movie is very american and not indian--that is true, and it is nothing like a bollywood movie. didn't mean to give off that impression.

    and when i say amercian movies are tragic, i guess i mean western movies--by which french (and a lot of european--you should see a russian film!) are "ahead" of the game on us like everything, as we are soon to follow. but still we seem to do a pretty good job with the tragic.