I think I’ve finally figured out precisely what I don’t like about Slumdog Millionaire.

February 24, 2009

Ah,” Slumdog Millionaire.” Have you heard? It’s the best movie ever made. Ever. Ever ever ever. Bright colors and people with different skin tones? Oh my! Rags to riches? Alright! No, seriously. Best movie ever. EVER.

People are always talking about the great message of “Slumdog Millionaire,” what a beautiful story it is. The message is basically this: Millions of people are living in slums, leading perfectly horrific lives, but one of them got extraordinarily lucky and won 20 million rupees and a hot girl. And it was his destiny to have all this happen. Which means it’s the rest of your (that’s “your” plural, you other “slumdogs”) destiny to live in poverty and destitution for the rest of your lives.

Jamal doesn’t get the answers right because he’s a “whiz kid,” nor does he go “from rags to riches on the strength of his lively intelligence.” Both of these quotes are from Roger Ebert, who is to me the closest thing to god in cinema. Of course, even god can get things wrong. 

No, Jamal doesn’t succeed because he’s good at anything or because he’s done something very well. He only succeeds because each of the questions on a game show relates to some of the biggest events of his life. That’s why the people who own the game show are so angry; if he was some kind of genius kid, they’d say, oh, well, he’s some kind of genius kid, of course he’s winning. But he’s not a genius kid. He’s just a regular kid, though he is, for sure, a genuinely nice kid, just like the millions of other genuinely nice kids whose destiny it apparently isn’t to have a fortune and a hot girl tossed into their laps, followed by a dance number.

I’m not saying that “Slumdog Millionaire” is an awful movie. It benefited greatly from outstanding cinematography and the best child acting performances I’ve ever seen, even better than Natalie Portman’s turn in “The Professional.” But that doesn’t stop the story from exhibiting precisely the imperial mindset you’d expect from a British filmmaker making an Indian movie. How does the Indian kid from the slums make good? Does he invent something really great? Does he become a doctor and help the sick people living in slums without medical care? Does he change the world through grassroots political action? Does he make anyone’s life other than his own better? No. He just gets lucky. Really, really lucky. And maybe you can get lucky, too, real slumdogs of this world. But no, you probably won’t. Because for Jamal, “It is written.” For you? Well, no one’s ever heard of you.

And yes, before you comment, I do realize that destiny is a very important concept in Indian religion. And I did note how the film tried to draw the distinction between luck and destiny — or at least said that he didn’t win because he was lucky, but rather due to destiny. But what is destiny? If it’s my destiny from birth to get ridiculously rich, and it’s your destiny from birth to be horrifically poor, one of two things is at play here. Either I’m very lucky and you’re very unlucky, or we’re talking about reincarnation. That is, I (in a previous life) was a really great person, while you were a really mean and cruel person, so we were both reborn destitute and I rose up while you stayed down. Man, that’s even worse. Someone who you didn’t even know and whose actions you couldn’t affect because you weren’t alive at the time, but whose soul you apparently have, maybe lived the life of a rich plantation owner who hideously abused his slaves, lived a long and healthy life, died, and was reborn as you, a “slumdog.” And you’re screwed now, because this guy determined your destiny. But his slave who he put down for trying to escape and start a new life, he died and was reborn as me, and I’m gonna be rich!

Well, doesn’t considering the religious aspect just make this story that much more beautiful?

I don’t want to rant about this, because it’s a little off topic, so I’ll say only this: Karma-based reincarnation is a very convenient explanation for the rich being rich and the poor being poor. 

You can try to tell me that this screenplay — which, these minor complexities aside, amounts to boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and also gets rich from a game show — is the best one of the year, but all you’re doing is insulting all the other screenplays, many of which are far greater achievements than “Slumdog Millionaire.”

But apparently, it’s better to be topical than good. 

It is written.

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One Response to “I think I’ve finally figured out precisely what I don’t like about Slumdog Millionaire.”

  1. Michael said

    This movie pissed me off too. The luck thing totally got to me, but the fact that for three quarters of the movie I was looking for sharp objects to end my suffering, or my TV’s, that’s what got to me. People told me that only the first half hour or so was really depressing.

    I have no idea what those people do in their spare time. Torture little animals or something? But I digress.

    Seriously, a movie that has me depressed as hell close to two hours or something is totally not worth the hype. I can deal with sad movies, but this just took the case.

    Say “No” to Slumdog! Screw him and his lucky life. The writer was lucky he chose to write such a fantastical tale about a game show, and not about the slumdog finding a unicorn to take him away to fantasy land.

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