Because You Asked: Why I Didn’t Dance at the End of “Slumdog Millionaire”

Because You Asked: Why I Didn’t Dance at the End of “Slumdog Millionaire” January 6, 2009

nope-jeffrey-overstreet-avatar2

Pop quiz:

Which popular 2008 release features this exchange?

“Come away with me.”
“And live on what?”
“Love.”

Is it:

A) Slumdog Millionaire

B) Twilight

C) Frost/Nixon

D) Waltz with Bashir

The answer?

It’s certainly cheesy enough to be from B) Twilight

I would have given anything to see Michael Sheen and Frank Langella have this exchange in C) Frost/Nixon.

And it isn’t D). Well, I haven’t seen Waltz With Bashir, but I’m fairly confident.

Lines very similar to this can be found in one of my favorite films, The New World. But in that film, the characters’ naivete is obvious. And they soon realize that there may be more important considerations than their romantic impulses. Romantic love can be beautiful and redemptive, but it can also be narrow-minded and even selfish. In The New World, such dialogue is begging to be questioned and considered.

In Slumdog Millionaire, this idealistic, honorable, adolescent exchange sums up the whole focus of the film. We’re there to cheer for the boy to get the girl, no matter how bad it gets. And he’ll get her too, just as he got that movie star’s autograph at the beginning of the movie… even if he has to dive into a mountain of human excrement (literally!) to do it.

And that’s fine, I guess. I’m all for love. I’d probably blush if someone counted how many films in my own library have lovey-dovey tendencies… The Fisher King, WALL-E, Wings of Desire, Frankie and Johnny, Roxanne, Ladyhawke….

But Slumdog Millionaire wants us to focus on that simple romantic ideal while dragging us through crises that can’t be taken as lightly as this film takes them.

So yeah, the answer is A. And, in spite of its sobering real-world context of suffering and affliction, that seems to be the sentiment that the movie wants me to take seriously.

A Few Words Before I “Give My Slumdog Testimony”

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had almost daily encounters with people urging me to see Slumdog Millionaire.

I really didn’t need the urging. It looked like an intriguing film.

But lately, the urging has reached a fever pitch. And when I say, “I’ve seen the film,” I find that folks are surprised. Why am I not raving about it on my blog? Why wasn’t it in my list of 20 favorites of 2008 at Image? Is something wrong with me?

Well, I’m sure there is something wrong with me. But I’m not sure that has anything to do with my reaction to Slumdog.

I really didn’t want to post an account of my disappointment with the film, primarily because everyone else seems to be having such fun. (I hear the line from A Room with a View: “Must you sneer? And spoil everyone’s pleasure?”) So if you don’t want me to open fire on your new best friend, you might just want to back out of this saloon before the bullets fly.

But since I’ve been asked again and again, and since I keep reading comments and notes in which folks are “diagnosing” my disappointment, I’m going to respond to some of those questions here.

And yes, this commentary is full of spoilers.

Diagnosis #1

Jeffrey just doesn’t get Danny Boyle’s style of entertainment. And he a snob when it comes to romance.

Before I describe my reservations about the film, let me make one thing clear: I do not hate this movie.

[Addendum: And, since I’m now told that this post seems to express contempt for those who love Slumdog… good grief, no! I don’t feel resentment toward its fans. Heck, most of my friends, my wife included, really liked it. And I respect that.]

I’m a Danny Boyle fan. When we met a few years back, we had a long conversation about our mutual passions — movies, the music of U2, etc.  Just a few years ago, Millions was my #1 pick of the year. I loved 28 Days Later, admired Shallow Grave, and Trainspotting still makes my head spin. I interviewed him (you can read it here) in downtown Seattle, and had a grand time. I have a feeling we’d get along famously if we met for pints on a regular basis.

I think Slumdog Millionaire is a compellingly entertaining, flashy, vividly colorful film. Flawed, but fun. I’m not at all surprised that audiences are cheering at the end, and I don’t criticize them for responding that way.

No, my complaint is with the chorus of critics heralding it “the year’s best film.”

It seems to me that they are being extraordinarily forgiving of what seem like glaring weaknesses to me from the outset. Similar to my experience watching American Beauty or Crash, I could not get excited about the film because it frustrated me at almost every turn.

Diagnosis #2

You just don’t like fast-paced, adrenalin-rush movies. You only care about meditative films anymore.

Nope, not true.

I loved Moulin Rouge, the Bourne movies, Millions, Trainspotting, Kill Bill Vol. 2, and WALL•E, for starters. I just don’t think the fast pace worked for this sprawling epic, nor did I feel an adrenalin rush. For me, Slumdog inspired confusion and frustration instead.

Diagnosis #3

You just had certain expectations going in, and the movie didn’t match what you wanted.

Guess again!

I went in as I usually do… with curiosity and eagerness to find out what the movie would be, not a preconceived notion of what it should be. Frankly, I was excited. I took time out on a very busy pre-Christmas weekend to cross town and see it.

Diagnosis #4

You just weren’t ready for it. This film takes you through so many different emotions! You wanted a film with just one main emotion.

I don’t even know what that one means.

Who wants a film with just “one main emotion”?

Diagnosis #5

Jeffrey contradicts himself. He liked Moulin Rouge. And isn’t that pretty much the same thing… a hyperactive production of  wishy-washy “We were meant to be together” sentimentality and “I Will Always Love You” cliches?

I liked Moulin Rouge, because it was a celebration of all things pop. The subject was pop, and the form suited the function. It wasn’t a serious film about French culture. I wasn’t supposed to believe in the characters; I was supposed to believe in the archetypes. Moulin Rouge knew it was a big, nutty cartoon… and thus, it captured meaning the best way pop art can. Like opera, the exaggerations were the point.

So no, I’m not a “Slumdog hater,” as one person labeled me. I’m just not excited about it.

And I’ll say a few words now about why.

STYLE

I don’t mind the rapid-cut, adrenalin-rush style of Danny Boyle’s films… usually.

But this film tries to span so much time in the characters lives so quickly that I did not get to know the characters well. The scenes are so fleeting, and the generational leaps so abrupt, that I sometimes was confused about who was who. I didn’t get a sense of personalities, interests, ambitions, or their families. Just this: “Boy A is kind and sensitive, and Boy B is older and more inclined to anger and selfishness.”

In Millions, by comparison, I found the characters so much more interesting and complex. And that movie moves very quickly too. Its young brothers were contrasted in similarly simplistic and predictable ways, but the actors and writers gave them such dimension, it worked for me. Here, I didn’t feel invested in the characters. They were just sort of… there.

Thus, I felt like I was watching a trailer for the movie it could have been. It could have been narrated by Dan Lafontaine. “In a world… where seven-year-old girls are put to work as sex slaves… one young man refuses to give up on a dream…

THE OPENING SCENE

The movie wanted me to care for Jamal, its underdeveloped central character (one critic called him a “charisma vacuum,” and I agree). But it used the oldest, cheapest trick in the book to inspire sympathy: The first time we see him, he’s having the living tar beat out of him.

You can make people care about anybody just by beating that character senseless. Beat up a child on camera, and you’ll get the whole audience rooting for them.

But inflicting violence on a character does not a character make.

I’m especially averse to movies that include gratuitous torture scenes. I see them on TV almost every night. In a quest to keep folks from changing the channel, everything gets turned up to “11.” I’ve seen so many jarring torture scenes on Alias, 24, and other TV crime dramas that I’ve lost patience with unnecessary violence on the screen. If a scene of that nature is integral to the story, and its intense moments contribute significantly to the meaning of the story, fine. But Slumdog‘s opening scene seemed designed to make me Feel! and Care!

Since I didn’t know what was going on, or who was involved, I immediately stepped back and asked, “Why do I feel like I’m the one being tortured? This had better be important to the story.” And it wasn’t.

Turns out, Slumdog‘s opening torture scene seems almost like a dream sequence in retrospect… something that doesn’t fit in with the story that comes after it, included just to grab our attention.

Which brings me to Point #2…

IMPLAUSIBILITIES

Would a young man who has just been beaten senseless, strung up by his wrists, and electrocuted, walk handsomely, adorably, and smilingly back out onto a game show stage right afterward without showing any sign of discomfort, abuse, or bruising?

Are we just supposed to forget that the torture ever happened? Does his body have some superhuman recuperative powers?

The scene seems, in retrospect, to be a cheap trick for getting our attention, but not one that fits reasonably into the flow of the story.

All through the film, I was being asked to believe the most impossible things. If the film were clearly a fantasy, that would be fine. But it keeps insisting on real-world relevance in ways that I can’t set aside in order to ride with the whimsical current.

SOUND AND FURY SIGNIFYING… WHAT EXACTLY?

Some have argued that it’s a fairy tale, and that I shouldn’t take things so seriously. Fine. It’s a fairy tale. Then why spend so much time and attention on making me reckon with meticulous real-world details, and striving so hard to stun me with the realization of How Hard Life Really Is In India?

I agree with critic Michael Sicinski:

We get young kids playing on the megalopolis trash heaps, violent outbreaks of the Hindu / Muslim conflict, Oliver Twist-style orphan exploitation, the loss of his brother to mobsters, eventual low-level employment at a call center, and, once Jamal starts succeeding on the game show, torture under interrogation by shady police. The question is, are these moments to be taken seriously, as social critique, or are they just “the bad stuff” that our hero must undergo in order to satisfy his quest to reunite with his beloved? The tagline, “It is written” gives a clue, but these grim interludes take up so much of the screen time it’s difficult to just write them off as mere plot hurdles. Boyle does seem to have an investment in showing us hard times in “the real India,” but the fairy tale demands of Slumdog mean that these hardships are so overblown …  as to ask a Western viewer to recoil, getting our “exceptionalist” hackles up. (“Well, tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you….”)

Slumdog, in its brightest moments and its darkest, never departs from a touristic and yes, a colonialist gaze, even as it tries to be frivolous, frothy uplift.

PLOT

Almost every scene was so riddled with storytelling shortcuts and cliches that I found myself predicting what would happen scene to scene.

Hmmm. The kids are surrounded by threatening adults. My guess… one of them will throw something hot or destructive into a bad guy’s face, and then shout ‘Run!’ And then they’ll run.

Somehow, even though the adults are bigger, smarter, and stronger, the kids will outrun them through a dense jungle.

And what do you want to bet there’ll be a Convenient Escape Train that always shows up? One with an open boxcar.

Lo and behold… there’s the train! I see three characters running to catch the train. What do you want to bet, since there’s a lot of story left to tell, that one of them will lose their grip on the other characters’ hand and fall behind?

Etc. Etc. Etc.

I never felt any suspense because the film never took the time to build any. And almost every situation seemed to be resolved very quickly by the most obvious, over-used, (and yet implausible) solution.

Wait, the game show. That was suspenseful, right?

Well, most people find game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? suspenseful. I’ve always been turned off by the show, and shows like it, because I don’t like to see money celebrated as such a prize, or to see it equated with happiness and success. Thus, the shower of money at the end of the movie doesn’t contribute to any sense of excitement for me.

And “Victory By Lucky Guess” falls far short of my idea of a thrilling conclusion. Lucky guesses fail to give me any mystical sense of Providence at work, and the film clearly wants me to have that sense.

And speaking of Providence, I didn’t understand what this movie was saying about it. If you want something bad enough, your destiny will be fulfilled? Wow, I hope that’s not how Providence works.

CHARACTERS

What characters?

This year, I became better acquainted with the character, personality, heart, mind, interests, and capabilities of a certain robot in the first ten minutes of his movie than I do about the central character of Slumdog Millionaire after two hours.

I don’t think I’m imposing unfair expectations upon this film. I wanted to know more about Jamal and his brother. I need to believe in them and their story if I’m going to care. I love magical realism. I read a lot of it, I write a lot of it. As Salman Rushdie said, even in a fairy tale there needs to be some semblance of a believable situation. I believed in Millions, I believed in Trainspotting, I even believed in those poor, desperate survivors in 28 Days Later. I didn’t believe this story.

And I wanted to see the actors act. But they never had much of a chance, when their scenes were all filmed in fast-forward.

These were stock characters. Sure, you can tell me “That’s the way Bollywood movies work, and this was a tribute to Bollywood.” I’d answer, I don’t enjoy or claim to understand Bollywood movies. I’m sure that’s my loss. Are you a big Bollywood fan? Maybe you can explain it to me.

Secondly, if the film is going to go for Harsh Realism in the way it portrays its environments, that only accentuates how flat and undeveloped these “characters” really are.

CLICHES AND TRIVIALITY

It didn’t work for me in The Last of the Mohicans, or Titanic, or Slumdog Millionaire. In all three films, the “You and I were meant to be” thread — the central thread of the plot —  was the least interesting part of the whole film.

To take a fascinating historical context, in which atrocities or disasters or devastation are happening everywhere you look, and then ask me to be primarily concerned about two lovers being separated… it doesn’t work for me. “I will find you! No matter how long it takes! I will find you!” That scene in Mohicans doesn’t endear me to Daniel Day-Loincloth or Madeline Swoon, just as the endless choruses of “Jack!” “Rose!” “Jaaaaack!” “Rooooose!” in Titanic grated on my nerves.

Conventions like this are the backbone of Harlequin romances and dime-store adventure stories. They can be done well. Heck, some of my favorite films bring together lovers in a sense of “destiny” or Providence… The Princess Bride, for example. Even Blade Runner has it. (“Would you come after me?”)

But in order for this to earn “best movie of the year” kudos, it should be something extraordinary, I need to find the characters and their story fascinating and compelling. This story never made me believe in these characters, and moved too fast for me to have a chance to think or feel anything at all.

If you told this same story in the context of the Holocaust, I suspect there would be cries of outrage at how that chapter of history was being exploited to serve as the “obstacle” in the path of a young boy chasing his dream girl. It would take a very skillful storyteller to tell that story with any sense of propriety. But here, it feels exploitative. To me, anyway.

(This is the kind of film where the disfiguring scar that the abused heroine receives in her captivity is the kind of scar that, when the scabs fall of, looks wicked cool on her cheek!)

THE “DO YOU THINK I’M STUPID?” FACTOR

I do not need to be reminded, over and over and over again, with vivid flashbacks, that Jamal has been separated from his true love. Nor do I need to be reminded that traumatic incidents will remind him of the tragic separation from his mother.

The flashback-as-memory device in film almost always gives me the impression that the filmmaker doesn’t trust his own storytelling, and that he feels he’d better remind us why this moment is important.

Let me think for myself, please.

Let me have my own emotional responses, instead of constantly hitting me over the head with “And this is really hard for him, remember, because….”

THE FEEL-GOOD ENDING

I couldn’t feel good about the ending, and I can’t believe the movie wanted me to, considering all of the heartbreaks we’d passed through as if we were on an amusement-park rollercoaster ride. I didn’t want to dance. I wanted to collapse in exhaustion and start praying for the massive mess that is modern India.

This plunged me into the abyss of real-world horrors and wanted me to celebrate the one lovestruck guy got his girl through a lifelong act of sheer determination.

What about the boy who’d been blinded (for starters)? While the audience was cheering that Jamal had found his girl, I kept thinking, what about that kid? Why didn’t Jamal show more concern for him? Was he really such a disposable supporting character, just a cog in the wheel of a machine designed to produce a magical kiss?

I like amusement park rides, but I’d rather they not include a dizzying dive into Calcutta’s Red-Light District. Some smart businessman might go to Disney and suggest a Slumdog Millionaire Rollercoaster. Why not? It’s not a far cry from this film. People will love it.

“IT IS WRITTEN.” (BUT IS IT MEANINGFUL?)

What does the film want us to understand about Providence? That God will get you through all kinds of troubles and then reward your dream by making it come true? You’re not getting the girl? Keep trying. It is written. You’re poor and persecuted? Don’t give up on your dream. It is written that you shall have it.

This is not the kind of Providence I believe in. This isn’t my idea of the kind of love that’s going to save the world and give the people hope. And “It is written”, or “Destiny,” or whatever label you slap on it doesn’t move me. It felt about as profound as the lesson of another fairy tale now playing — The Tale of Despereaux on Steroids — in which the filmmakers buried DiCamillo’s simple, beautiful story in all kinds of unnecessary hubbub… and then the narrator wrapped things up by confusing grace with “Good Luck.”

Is this film saying that Jamal’s Muslim faith is the secret to his success? Then why didn’t the film take Muslim faith seriously, and show us something of what Muslim faith entails?

And while the film takes stabs at the hollowness of capitalism and greed, this film’s eagerness to please the audience with every single shot, song, line, and moment felt too much like a product of that very machine.

OKAY. I’M DONE.

Okay… having said all that. Yeah, Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle cooked up some really, really cool shots. And the end-credit dance was fun (although I got a bigger kick out of the one during the closing credits in Down With Love.)

I’m not saying that those of you who love Slumdog Millionaire didn’t encounter something real. Stories of characters who overcome the odds in pursuit of their dream are essential stories that give us hope.

I’m just saying… this version of that story didn’t work for me. I kept saying to myself, “I really think I’m supposed to want to dance at the end. And I really, really, really don’t.” What would I be celebrating, anyway? One of the most spectacularly contrived conclusions I’ve ever seen, fulfilling the dreams of characters I don’t believe in.

If you’re going to comment here in favor of the film, please describe in detail what it meant to you and why.

But really, I’m tired of being “diagnosed” for not becoming a Slumdog cheerleader. And if my response seems overblown and snarky, forgive me… I’m just tired of reading condescending rationalizations of why I didn’t love this movie.

It reminds me of the letter that I once received from a Christian couple, a husband and wife, who co-wrote a message to me telling me that “Since you can’t see the beautiful story of Christian love at the heart of Titanic, and understand why it’s one of most beautiful movies ever made, then we feel sorry for you, because you clearly won’t know how to find or appreciate true Christian love in your lifetime.”

I asked my wife to compose the reply to that one.

And before I go, my thanks to Michael Sicinski (scroll to the end) and Salman Rushdie for keeping me company in this dark, cold, lonely corner.


Browse Our Archives



TRENDING AT PATHEOS Entertainment
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

17 responses to “Because You Asked: Why I Didn’t Dance at the End of “Slumdog Millionaire””

  1. Jeffrey,

    I appreciated your review. I, myself am a Slumdog lover. However, I think a lot of what you said is right on. (Not in a million years would I ever be able to come up with what you said). The thing is people are so different & experience things so differently. When I saw it, I did care right away. The flashbacks both reminded me & sucked me in. I did believe it. I did identify with the characters & when improbable things happened I cheered, “wohoo, thank you God!, etc. etc.” At the end, I did long for them to be together & during rolling credits I got up and danced (I was at home with friends:) #1. I am a girly-girl romantic comedy snob & I experience movies differently than my husband or most men I know for that matter. It seems like people who do or don’t like this film is highly dependent on how you interpret it through your personality lens. And since everyone is so different, it makes sense to me that folks like me can get sucked right in & declare it our fave movie of 2008. So, anyway, just a thought on both gender & personality. yours truly, a slumdog lover. -grace

  2. Jeffrey, thank you so much for writing this. I just watched Slumdog on DVD, and I had high hopes for it after hearing raves from a lot of my friends. I too was disappointed, and you have crystallized a lot of the inchoate objections I had to the movie. I kept wanting to suspend my disbelief, but the movie kept preventing me from doing so. The last straw was that ringing cell phone at the end. It rang for a long time, and I couldn’t help thinking over and over, “This cell phone doesn’t have voicemail?”

  3. Someone has actually portrayed how I felt about this film. If it had been meant as a social documentary then it achieved what it set out to do, but the fact is the film is being advertised as “the feel-good film of the decade”. The only thing I felt good about after it was the fact that my childhood was a piece of cake compared to that of the kids in the film. We are given torture, ethnic violence, squalor, depravity, child mutilation, prostiution and corruption everywhere you look and are expected to believe the fairytale quiz show story around it. There wasn’t a single trustworthy adult character in the entire film which I found difficult to accept, for instance. By the end of the film I was too drained to care about Jamal getting his girl, and I just found the triteness of the love story set against unimaginable horror too jarring.

  4. My husband dragged me to ‘The Wrestler’ yesterday as the first of two movies of the day-‘Slumdog’ being the second of the two. I say ‘dragged’ because I hate wrestling and had no desire to see the film. I loved it! As we were getting ready to watch ‘Slumdog,’ there was a preview for ‘The Wrestler.’ I actually teared up. Though I didn’t dislike ‘Slumdog’ totally, there were a lot of flaws in the film which you so accurately communicated in your review. Thanks for being brave enough to voice some complaints with this movie. The last words of “Kiss me,” followed by the synchronized dancing, left me with an ambivalent feeling about the movie. I also left thinking about how great Mickey Rourke was in ‘The Wrestler!’

  5. Good comments, and now my feelings about your year-end picks are reversed from the end of 2007, since at that point I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could like Ratatouille so much.

    I’m not sure why I liked it so much, even while I acknowledge many of the same problems that you point out. I can’t deny the film is all of what you say. I suppose I could say that it “uses” cliches instead of becoming a “cliche,” but I’m still not sure how to flesh out that argument.

  6. Jeffrey, I essentially agree with all the sentiments you state in this post about the problems with this film. Here is a blurb from a review I wrote (which is linked above):

    “And herein lies the problem with the movie. In attempting to be a feel good love story, the film perhaps overextends itself by entrenching this story in too much gritty realism. I feel Danny Boyle should have chosen between the two. The first section could have been an ideal opening act to a rather more serious, if more difficult, movie to watch, as it heartbreakingly yet beautifully paints the perils of living on the underbelly of a metropolis teeming with the poor, ruled by the rich and ruthless, and with an energetic middle class. It is in this sense that Millions, which had far more overtly fantastical elements such as Christian saints appearing in visions to the protagonist, works better as a film and can speak as an uplifting fable.”

  7. I always appreciate your erudite and thoughtful film reviews – helps me think through my position on why I want to defend what I think, and if my position on something is worth defending.

    On the whole, I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, but I thought the love story was too simplistic. Perhaps its because I wanted to see a nuanced portrayal of an enduring love through all of the hardship – but there is a lot of plot going on which buried opportunities to explore that. I know its hard to sculpt characters with depth when you have a lot of ground to cover in the narrative. But perhaps that wasn’t Boyle’s or Beaufoy’s intention in the first place. The film holds together more like a legend or an oral story that would get repeated by the community – “Did you hear about that street kid who won the Millionaire show?!”

    Anyway – the filmmaker’s job is to made decisions to shape the story. Interesting how the decisions will resonate with some people and not others.

  8. Jeffrey,

    Thanks for saying so much of what I’ve thought since I saw SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. I’m bewildered by the critical response, since so much of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE strikes me as style over substance, and there have been far better films this year.

    If SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE wins Best Picture at the Oscars, and odds are that it will, it will be just another in an extremely long stream of lackluster Best Picture-winners (TITANIC, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, AMERICAN BEAUTY, GLADIATOR, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, CHICAGO, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, THE DEPARTED, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN).

  9. I liked the film a lot, but more for the reasons that I like books about Discworld, rather than for the reasons I like Breath, by Tim Winton, or The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Color, music, and cinematography are the main course, with social commentary and plot as sides. I’m a huge Bollywood fan because of this recipe. When I watch films that serve up the Problems of India as the main course, I walk away feeling ragged, as I struggle to find hope for any of the characters in the story, let alone the real people who live out horrors every day there on the streets. (The film, Maya, especially comes to mind.) India’s problems are too big for that sort of treatment to be effective. Slumdog manages to create a fairy tale in Bollywood’s tradition, while being untraditional and conscious enough to remind us that there are some serious social problems in India that need to be addressed. But it doesn’t try to rip the audience to shreds, even though I think it slips up with the torture scenes. I agree with David that the dance scene at the end was the catharsis. Even Jamal seems more shocked than happy at the end of the game show, since the money isn’t what he was ever after. The game show means nothing to him. He really looks happy, dancing at the end with Latika. And may I just say that the music in Slumdog is what really caught me–probably says something about the quality of the story that throughout the film I kept tuning more into sounds than plotline minutiae.

  10. Jeffrey,

    Thanks for taking the time to describe your issues with the film. I still would like to see it, but perhaps not with the fervor I once had (sparked by the lavish praise that has been heaped upon it by many, I guess). I also appreciate your time and interview time with Boyle and his films, and that you have enjoyed/appreciated Millions as much as you have.

    On an utterly different topic, have you seen Tarsem’s The Fall, by any chance? Ebert liked it and included it in his Top 20, so I was just wondering. I thought it was visually arresting (to use a tired phrase) and worth seeing. Just curious.

    And I must admit that my wife and I actually appreciated Gladiator. It seemed to actually give a bit of thought to an afterlife – something that I haven’t found a lot of in mainstream film. Then again, I haven’t seen Crash, so….

  11. Jeff,
    I understand and respect your response to the film, but I’m a bit skeptical about the degree of put-uponness that you claim at the hands of its fans. Granted, I don’t read your e-mail, but from the peanut gallery, the detractors of the film are much more insistent and vocal than its fans. (By persistent I mean posting follow-ups to initial reviews, commenting on or linking to other reviews, and attempting to persuade those who had a different view to change their mind.)

    Again, in my experience, fans of “The New World,” “Children of Men,” or “Wall-E” have been much more aggressive towards and incredulous at those who didn’t share their raptures than fans of “Slumdog Millionaire.” I believe the word David uses above is “snark,” and what comes across to me as a reader is less that you didn’t like the film (although that does come across) as that you feel contempt for and irritation at those who do. Knowing you the way I do, I doubt seriously that is what you feel, but that is what gets communicated to me when I read your piece.

    I will stipulate that as a reader, I am usually much more interested in what people liked (and why) than what they didn’t.

    Respectfully,

    Ken

    P.S. For the record, I had some reservations about the film which I wrote about elsewhere, but ultimately enjoyed it as a shallow but still entertaining genre piece…about on a level with “Forrest Gump” (damning with faint praise) and maybe a touch above “August Rush” (a film which engendered the same response in me towards it and its fans that “SM” apparently did in you).

  12. I’m with Chris and David on this one. I especially like the Dickens comparison. I guess what makes the film work so well for me is just the way I process art. I’m not so much a critical thinker, but a critical feeler. I go into films actually wanting to be manipulated. Not that any old crowd-pleaser will do…I still need something special to latch onto. But things like plot implausibilities, well-worn conventions and simplistic themes don’t really bother me. Just tell me a good story, and tell it in a way that provokes a gut reaction, with energy and emotion. Perhaps this is making me sound like a philistine, but oh well. I don’t mind admitting that I’m not a very cerebral person. I could ramble on more, but it would just get boring.

  13. David,

    Thanks very, very much for posting that comment. That helps me appreciate it better. I wish the film had drawn me in like that.

    There’s always a second viewing.

    Jeffrey

  14. chad:

    i think you must have forgotten gladiator. at least crash had something to say even if it was something we already knew.

  15. jeff:

    thanks for this response. as i said in my e-mail to you, the snark really started to bother me because i couldn’t really understand why this movie was worthy of such disdain. but i can understand how people’s expectations can become wearisome. the only thing i’d say is don’t take it out on the movie—it wasn’t the one demanding that you like it!

    but regarding the movie, i felt like it set out to do three things: (1) bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in india, (2) dignify those living in that crisis as human beings who aren’t defined simply by their poverty and who have stories beyond their suffering, and (3) to address the uniquely indian societal divides created by money, culture, and religion. i saw these goals as the layers of the film. so in the background you have the unbelievable poverty and cruelty of the slums of india. and on top of that, this very familiar, well-worn love story between two very familiar, well-worn archetypes. and on the very top is the story of how muslim india and hindu india might be reconciled through love, devotion, sacrifice, and compassion at a grassroots, very human level over and against political or theological solutions.

    i think a lot of the questions you bring up here are questions the film wants you to ask. i think that there’s supposed to be a disconnect between the brutality of the background and the saccharine sweetness of the love story in the foreground. i saw it as a gauntlet being thrown down. i felt as if the movie were saying, “if it’s not appropriate to tell a love story in light of the suffering in india, then let there be no more love stories ever told. because in the background of every one, there is horrible injustice and suffering. the only difference is we will make you behold it, we won’t let you look away.” it was, i thought, a movie that demands you accept into your heart the totality of the experience—or, at least, to question why you might care enough about the suffering in india to object to how a film might portray it but not enough to do much else.

    as for the idea of fate, i don’t think the movie necessarily concludes that the answer to the question of how jamal succeeded is fate. i think that’s what he would believe coming from his islamic background. but latika might think of it as luck. i think that’s the point, though. each of the answers—cheating, luck, intelligence, and fate—represent various characters’ answers to the question. but ultimately the answer is irrelevant. what matters isn’t how jamal and latika are drawn together, only the reality that they are. that question as the central conceit was, to me, the movie expressing exasperation with those who endlessly debate how india’s problems might most efficiently be solved. the movie seemed to have a much more pragmatic outlook: ‘look, no matter what, a lot of people aren’t going to have a happy ending. so stop crying about it and just do some good right where you are. it might not solve the problem on the large scale, but on the smaller scale, it’ll make a huge difference for those around you.’

    in its three goals, to me it was generally successful. ultimately i admired its defiant ‘love me or leave me’ pluck, how it demands that you feel remorse for the conditions in india that a nation of wealth like our own is at least partially culpable for but refuses to accept your pity and instead tells its characters’ stories in the same fashion a western movie might.

    structurally, i thought it had some problems. i actually wanted it to maintain its quick, frenetic pace throughout just as city of god did. i thought whenever it let the audience up to breathe, it lost its power to surprise—especially toward the end where we see jamal being driven to the set and latika stuck in traffic, trying to reach him. to me, the ending was the most predictable part.

    oh and as for the dance scene at the end, it’s a little embarrassing for me to admit, but i found the actual end of the movie kind of mundane, but i was moved to tears by the dance scene. it was like, after all they went through, here they all were, happy and smiling. they were the actors and the characters simultaneously and miraculously they had pulled themselves clean. it was like the end of the movie was the end of days and when it came back up for the credits, we’d come back to another life where every tear was wiped away and there was no more death or mourning or weeping or pain. i don’t know that that’s how the movie intended it, but to be completely honest, that’s where the catharsis happened for me.

  16. Thanks, Jeff. Discovering that someone else feels exactly the same way as I do about Slumdog Millionaire has been a huge blessing.

    All I can say is that it had better not get a Best Picture nod. It probably will, but if it wins it will have quickly overtaken Crash as the worst Best Picture winner in history.

  17. I dig the response and I can see your points. I enjoyed Slumdog, but enjoyed it even more after having the opportunity to speak to Boyle about it. He talked to me at length about going to India and seeing how horror and devastation mingle with vibrancy and life…and he wanted the tone of the film to reflect that. I really appreciated the way it mingled Dickens-ish horror and poverty with a culture that is rich enough to give away millions of rupees on TV. It’s manipulative, absolutely. But I guess the difference is that the manipulation worked on me…it didn’t on you. I have the movie at #2 on my list for this year. You don’t have it in your top 20s. . . I may not agree, but it’s absolutely your perogative. Film can be viewed objectively, but much of it is often subjective, especially when it comes to calling films “great.”

    I often get the same response when I mention that ‘Milk’ wasn’t in my top-10–I think it’s well-made, but I think that at heart it adds nothing new to the biopic genre and I think it lionizes Harvey Milk…I also think that people who want to say the goal to end brutality against gays is the same thing as Proposal 8 (it’s not). Also, people seem shocked when I tell them that I think “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is horribly overrated–it’s a beautifully filmed movie with great special effects, but the New Orleans framing device is pointless and Benjamin Button is a very passive character…one who becomes very boring once he turns into Brad Pitt without any special effects.

error: Content is protected !!