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This Week in Elitism: Slumdog Millionaire- Don't hate the movie, hate the genre

Every season has an indie darling of the silver screen that inspires yuppies, intellectual 20-somethings, and confused elderly to line up for blocks around artsy theaters, gasp at the beauty and slightly-confusing metaphors of the picture, applaud with pride as the credits roll, and then dissect it's cultural relevance into the wee hours of night at nearby coffee shops. The movie of fall 2008 is Slumdog Millionaire. And I liked it in spite of myself.

In lieu of a traditional review - with plot points that highlight strengths and weaknesses - I'll start from the negative and work my way back, which is the only objective way for me to analyze this film, really. There were so many reasons that I shouldn't have liked it, based on past presidence and current interests. All of those factors, though, were overcome by a few facets that overcome my better judgment. In light of accurate review, I must state, before I begin, that I would recommend this movie, but with the following caveats...

1. Violence

In spite of its marketing as a sweet story about a boy from the ghetto raised up to national icon by a gameshow, there are moments of pointed pain, torture, and death throughout the film. To prove a point about the nature of greed and the inhumane life of the street children of Mumbai, the script even touches on child mutilation. I have a unique perspective on all of these traumatic events because, being a tenderheart who just can't watch it, I had my eyes closed for every single one. Which decidedly alters the timbre and impact of plot. And I do believe that all of the moments could have accomplished their role in highlighting a meagre existence through off-screen reference. In fact, it might have made the movie stronger: what you can imagine is always worse than what a director can show on the screen.

2. References to the worst of pop culture

Nothing kills a movie of the fairy tale genre for me - like a classic rags to riches - than the inclusion of television or music that makes me change the channel/station in real life. Slumdog Millionaire takes the latter part of its title from the now mostly defunct popcultural phenomenon that was "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" The self-aggrandizement of that show and every host I've ever seen lacks any modicum of subtlty. The phony tension, built by duh-duh-duuuuhhh music, lowered lights, and the semantic/inflectional choices of the Regis character are so trite...blah! "Poor filmmaking!" it makes me want to yell. But I didn't. In juxtoposition with the realities of the slumdog life that the director, Danny Boyle, presents, the presence of the formulaic gameshow emphasizes why the poor can cling to long-shots, miracles, and lucky breaks as their only means of salvation, because it was the only way out for the protagonist. It also demonstrates, with quiet reservation, that this is the only reason this character would be noticed by a member of the middle class. If not for the show, his life would be a silent yet all-too-common tragedy.

3. Bollywood

When I see groups of adults dancing in unison, all I can think of is the late 90's, when girl and boy bands ruled the music world and that kind of thing was "acceptable." I was able to enjoy and appreciate the million man dance sequence at the end of this film however, because it was a return to the exuberance of the opening shots, and could serve as a reminder to the audience of the unlying hope and joy that the movie is intended to promote, in contrast to the flashbacks of the Slumdog's youth and teenage years.

4. Flashback format

How did this film manage to make me smile being told through tens of flashbacks? I have no idea. Maybe because the tiny versions of the characters were cute, or because it broke up the clearshot trajectory of moral downfall that many would quite obviously take. But definitely because it was shot so beautifully, with shuttershot cinematography, by Anthony Dod Mantle. His use of sped up time, unique angles, and vibrant colors was one reason I loved another film by the same director: Millions. That movie also relied on some flashbacks in telling the story of a British boy with religious sensibilities and visions who finds a million dollars and tries to make good choices with it. Somehow, that children's film was made edgy by the camera work. I loved it. The opening sequence of Slumdog Millionaire, in which police are chasing a ragtag group of street kids through the shacks of Mumbai, is possibly the most beautiful shots of film I've ever seen. Gorgeous. And pretty much sealed the deal for me.

There will be those who love it and those who hate it; some facets I described are easier for me to ignore than others, or might be positives, depending on what you want out of a movie night. In the end, though, it earned its right to be the indie darling of the late fall. Here's your chocolate truffle half-caf no foam latte. Discuss.

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  1. Blogger chris | 3:26 PM |  

    Can't wait to see this. What genre does it fall under though? It seems like it defies classications other than "heartwarming," so what genre is there to hate?

    Love Danny Boyle in general though. I even liked Sunshine.

  2. Blogger Nicole | 5:10 PM |  

    I hate the rags to riches genre when it's not based on hard work, I guess. I mean, it's too Dickensian for a protagonist's fortune to come from an external factor or benefactor:) I prefer rags-to-riches of the "The Pursuit of Happyness" variety: he earned it and all the pain led him to the denouement.

    I think the genre is obscured by the music, locale, and violence... it's basically a feel good movie disguised as an indie! I'm just glad it wasn't set in the USA, because then there would have to be Regis.

  3. Blogger qualler | 6:58 PM |  

    I also can't wait to see this movie, but are rags-to-riches or "indie" really genres? To me, a genre is film-noir, etc. I also plead ignorance for having not seen the movie, but it seems to me that it's a powerful enough statement in itself that the only way someone in a developing country can become wealthy is by going on a game show, whether it be Millionaire, or the lottery, etc. As far as game shows go, Millionaire is definitely one of the better, in my opinion.

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