I saw one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time today called Slumdog Millionaire. Slumdog scores big on everything from screenwriting to acting and cinematography but mainly on the strength of its story.
Slumdog Millionaire is about an orphan named Jamal who grew up with his brother Salam in the slums of Mumbai, India only to find himself at the age of eighteen on the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When appearing on the game-show Jamal mysteriously has the answer to every questions posed by the host of the show. This greatly puzzles the show’s host who questions how a teenager from the slums could know such things when even the most educated of contestants have not made it nearly as far on the show.
Just before Jamal is about to get the final question of the show for a prize of 20 million Rupals they run out of time postponing the big question until the next night. As Jamal leaves the studio that night, he is apprehended by police and forced to answer questions of a different kind as he faces allegations of cheating. During the interrogations he begins to recount the situations in his life where he came across the specific answers to each of the questions on the show. Was it luck, cheating, or destiny?
The picture that emerges of both Jamal and his brother Salam is that of two different paths. While both brothers start out in the same adventure Jamal’s heart is turned quickly to the quest for his true love Latika while his brother Salam sets his heart on money and power. It is Jamal’s love for the orphan Latika, whom he had shown compassion to after loosing his own mother, which becomes his reason for living and eventually, though ironically even his reason for going on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When Jamal gets on the game-show it is as one who has no desire for money or power, he just wants to find the one he loves.
The movie is predominately told by the use of flashback scenes going back to their early childhood and the death of their Muslim mother at the hands of angry Hindus on up to the present. Though the story touches on the tension between Muslims and Hindus it steers clear of making a story explicitly about religion. The only examples of religion in this movie happen to be of some of the more negative aspects of both the Muslim faith and Hinduism, at least as they are practiced by some individuals. If anything the movie shows that there is something more transcendent out there than religion. That said, the movie is very spiritual.
As I watched Jamal recounting how he discovered the answers to questions in the present from things he had experienced in the past, I couldn’t help think of my own history with God and how I have noticed similar things in my own life. While it seems that the answer put forth by this movie is that Jamal is being guided by destiny, it is not some impersonal destiny but rather a life lived in love which has become aware of the possibilities in pain and suffering and the divine in the seemingly random and often cruel circumstances of life. While I won’t tell you how the movie ends it can be summed up with the words “Love Wins”.
I am not usually the type to cry at movies much but I found myself definitely fighting the tears at the end of this one and it wasn’t because of the usual theatrical button-pushing common in so many movies today. I was simply moved by the story…a very rare experience these days.
Trailer - http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox_searchlight/slumdogmillionaire/