Monday, June 01, 2009

Slummin, Oscar-Style

I almost fear the reprisal this post may prompt, but I'm having trouble sleeping just now and think this might help. Tonight, the Missus and I watched the 2008 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionnaire. I haven't been so disappointed in a (allegedly) best picture since My Fair Lady. Good movie, sure. Great movie? I'm not so sure.

Think about other great movies. The Godfather tells us an old story about love and family within the Italian mob. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest forced us to ponder who the really crazy ones are and what we're doing about it. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind asked questions as old as the human race about the inevitability of life. What did Slumdog teach us?

That honesty is the best policy? Awesome. Ten Things I Hate About You, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and a hundred other non-classics tackle that same weighty issue.

But maybe my real beef with the movie is its troubling social darwinism. Which slumdog wins 20 million rupees and which slumdog died alone in a bathtub full of cash? And which slumdog has been begging for so long he can identify your alms by smell (since he can't see)? And what about all those other slumdogs whom Javed made homeless? Those unglorified stories, juxtaposed as they are with Jamal's, stink of Victorian theories on life and fairness, that the downtrodden are downtrodden for a reason.

No thanks. I'll take Yes Man and the questions it makes me ask myself over another movie telling me life really is fair.

Sent from my iPod


Yee said...

How did I know you'd post a blog about this? ;)

Jeremy, I have to say - I think you missed the entire point. I have no idea where you got this 'honesty' message (except Jamal is honest, but then, so are most heroes). It's a movie about destiny - kismet (a concept used by both Hindus and Muslims). His entire life led up to his victory ("Jai Ho" means victory). But destiny doesn't mean you just lie back and wait for it either, obviously.

And what social darwinism? Jamal and Salim are brothers, but they suffer completely different fates. Salim dies *for* his brother and is happy about it - that's why he says "God is great", which is a Muslim prayer said at defining moments. He dies how he lived, but he redeems himself and becomes the anti-hero.

As for the orphans, I'm pretty sure you're supposed to view them as victims of a cruel gangster, not as deserving of it... The Hindu attack on the Muslim slums is portrayed as heartless and undeserved as well.

So while I don't often agree with you on your pop culture preferences, I have to say that I don't understand where you're coming from at all. Are you sure that you were actually watching it? :)

Jeremy Masten said...

Maybe you just hoped I'd blog about it (:<

Hmm . . . I see your points. Not having had that extensive a background in either Hindu or Islam may have hindered my enjoyment of the movie. (Of course, how could I miss the last line? "D: It is written.". (: )

In my defense, the director being. British really threw me off. I knew there was something more to Salim's dying prayer. I caught the redemption aspect, but missed deeper aspects to it.

And I would argue that "destiny" is pretty word for Social Darwinism. I mean, if you can't sit back and wait for it, good destinies must only happen to those who really deserve it.

But maybe the biggest factor in my experience of Slumdog Millionnaire is that I'm currently reading Les Miserables. The parallels between 19th century French society and 21st century Indian society are kinda shocking. Particularly the whole "How does a slumdog know all this? The only answer is that he is cheating, not that he is honest. At least we'll start at cheating and torture him until he admits to cheating."

Finally finally finally . . . I actually liked the movie. The dance on the platform at the end was good; Javed got his; I liked Salim's redemption (tho the story behind that I thought was weak and depended too heavily on trite concepts of brotherhood and religion); etc. etc. I just expected so much more emotional and philosophical impact. Just like I expected from the other disappointing (but good) "Best Picture," My Fair Lady.

(Sorry for the long comment, but we still don't know anybody up here.)

Yee said...

:) I think you're putting a very non-Calvinist view on 'destiny' - that is, not only good people get good destinies and all variations of that. But that makes it clearer on your feelings.

And if you liked the dancing, you should try real Bollywood films! :D Most of them are pretty happy. "Bride & Prejudice" is good.

I hope you guys are doing well up there. I know you'll make lots of friends etc etc. (Insert mushy stuff about how you and your wife are fabulous people.) Keep updating so we know how you're doing!