Betsy Speicher

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Rate this Movie   12 votes

  1. 1. Artistic Merit

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  2. 2. Sense of Life or Personal Value

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14 posts in this topic

I greatly enjoyed this film, even if I don't consider it great art. I saw it days after returning from a business trip to India, so it resonated with me. 'Slumdog' portrays India today as I experienced it: a clash of the old and new, the grinding poverty and the emerging prosperity. Harry Binswanger gave it a B- overall, but I would rate it above that simply on its sense of life. I agree with Harry's view that Jamal's love interest didn't have much explicit motivation - you never find out exactly WHY he loves Latika, just that he does. In the context of this particular movie, I was able to overlook it because of the ingenious plot structure and the sunny sense of life. In the packed cinema where I saw the film, people applauded at the end. That is rare, in my opinion.

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Just so no one reads only the above, goes to see the film, and gets a shock, I offer a quote from Scott Holleran's blog (see the post from Jan. 7th 2009) about this film:

The highly touted Slumdog Millionaire is consistent, purposeful and predictable, though it is not my type of movie. [...] [it] is also revolting, with numerous scenes depicting abuse, mutilation and torture of children, mostly boys [...]. Beatings, wild dogs, eyes being gouged out with kitchen utensils, sex slavery, burning flesh—this movie is repulsive, dumping a child in feces for laughs and delivering the misery to squeeze an artificially happy ending out of the last few minutes.

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Just so no one reads only the above, goes to see the film, and gets a shock, I offer a quote from Scott Holleran's blog (see the post from Jan. 7th 2009) about this film:
The highly touted Slumdog Millionaire is consistent, purposeful and predictable, though it is not my type of movie. [...] [it] is also revolting, with numerous scenes depicting abuse, mutilation and torture of children, mostly boys [...]. Beatings, wild dogs, eyes being gouged out with kitchen utensils, sex slavery, burning flesh—this movie is repulsive, dumping a child in feces for laughs and delivering the misery to squeeze an artificially happy ending out of the last few minutes.

Some people have had these complaints about the movie, but I respectfully disagree. These are all things that are well known about life in the slums of India, so the film is setting the context for WHAT Jamal does to improve his lot in life under excruciating circumstances. I don't think the ending is artificial at all.

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Scott Holleran's blog ...

Has he *ever* liked a movie? I don't remember a single positive review ever mentioned by him.

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The highly touted Slumdog Millionaire is consistent, purposeful and predictable, though it is not my type of movie. [...] [it] is also revolting, with numerous scenes depicting abuse, mutilation and torture of children, mostly boys [...]. Beatings, wild dogs, eyes being gouged out with kitchen utensils, sex slavery, burning flesh—this movie is repulsive, dumping a child in feces for laughs and delivering the misery to squeeze an artificially happy ending out of the last few minutes.

Some people have had these complaints about the movie, but I respectfully disagree. These are all things that are well known about life in the slums of India, so the film is setting the context for WHAT Jamal does to improve his lot in life under excruciating circumstances. I don't think the ending is artificial at all.

Just to be clear. I have no opinion about the film, not having seen it -- and I don't know enough about Scott Holleran's reviews in general to be familiar with how often his reviews are negative. I used his review for factual reason only, to specify the content of scenes that I think would cause some people (like me, for instance) to decide that they might want to miss this one, based strictly on the horrific content of some scenes, regardless of how those scenes can and should be evaluated in the full context of the film.

There was no indication at all in the initial post of this kind of content, and I know of someone who went to see the film based on a similar recommendation and wished they'd known before deciding to see it, so that they could have missed the experience.

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There was no indication at all in the initial post of this kind of content, and I know of someone who went to see the film based on a similar recommendation and wished they'd known before deciding to see it, so that they could have missed the experience.

I didn't include comments about it because the film has been out a while and I think those things are pretty well known by now. Also, I think Holleran exaggerates what is actually shown in the movie. You know the brutality is occurring, but most of it is off camera.

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In order to assist others wanting to know what this movie is about and generally how the story unfolds, here are my own observations.

* * * * * * * * * * SOME SPOILERS BELOW (mostly high level) * * * * * * * * * *

The movie is about two young brothers who become orphaned at a young age (because of racial violance against muslims), and their struggle to survive in the horrendously violent, oppressive slums of India. (Most of the oppressiveness and evil come from local gangsters and has no connection to muslim religion.)

Along the way, the older brother becomes increasingly affiliated with two different gangsters (at different times) and ultimately redeems himself by killing both of them before being gunned down himself by the second gangster's henchmen. Meanwhile, the younger brother increasingly turns to honest work to survive.

Early in their struggles, the younger brother befriends an orphaned girl, and the eventual result is a love story that ultimately ends very happily for both of them. The love story is a bit formulaic -- boy meets girl, loses her, finds her again, loses her again, etc. -- but is uplifting and suspenseful nonethtless. By the end of the movie, the love story becomes the movie's central focus as the younger brother continues his persevering search for her.

The whole story is packaged in an envelope of "destiny" -- it was simply destiny that the lives of the two borthers would unfold as they did, with the younger brother eventually finding and keeping his childhood love, and becoming a multi-millionaire in the process. Yet the determinism implicit in destiny doesn't mean, in this story's view, that the achievement of one's predefined destiny is automatic or effortless. The story shows considerable apparent freedom of choice about one's values and actions, with great personal struggle and perseverance being essential to the achievement of one's "destiny."

One secondary character that I found particularly interesting is the police inspector, conscientiously dedicated to ferreting out the truth, not just by threats of physical harm backed by some actually brutal torture methods, but by careful questioning of the suspect. The younger brother finally convinces the inspector that he really did know the answers (without cheating) to the game show questions that made him a multi-millionaire winner. The game show's questions and answers are interwoven with flashbacks throughout much of the movie, tying together what might otherwise have been just a disorganized conglomeration of disconnected, "slice-of-life" bits and pieces in the brothers' life story.

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. . . (because of racial violance against muslims) . . .

Did you mean "religious" violence against Muslims? If it is due to their religion, it isn't "racial."

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Slumdog Millionaire: A Touching Story of Destiny

By Jose Gainza

The easiest test I have to judge a movie is whether it makes me cry, which I call the ‘Pearl Harbor Test’, for when I first saw this movie I cried so much I wanted to bawl. The Notebook had a similar effect on me. But this unfortunately is a subjective standard, and it should be insufficient to convince you that my judgment is true. Nonetheless, I believe that I am mature, experienced, wise, and sensitive enough to personally trust a movie that makes me cry.

Since the beginning of my adult life, when I began to discover the world of philosophy—besides stories about the heroic, passionate thinker—I have always appreciated stories about passionate love, about the great return of a lost love, about how society or society’s politics can interfere with the fulfillment of love, about an obvious obsession (whether explicitly intense or somewhat repressed). Looking back at my adolescence, I must admit that even then there have been movies that have made me cry, but when I was twenty, I began to understand the meaning of my cinematic laments and welcome and enjoy them.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) does meet this standard of mine; it made me cry, and in addition, I am now on the threshold of thirty. Though I sincerely cried (actually, really teary eyed), it was nowhere near the intensity I experienced with the two movies noted at the top. The lover in Slumdog Millionaire is Jamal Malik, and he is inescapably possessed by an intense and insatiable love for Latika, a girl he first met in his early boyhood. Throughout the entire film it is presented adequately that she is always on his mind, always has been, and always will be. It is indeed heartbreaking the way in which they are separated the first time, especially since it is Jamal’s own brother who finalizes the separation of the child Jamal and the child Latika. She is running for a train that is just beginning to take off, and Salim, Jamal’s brother, is the one who is going to grab Latika’s hand and bring her aboard the train—but he pulls his hand away and gives the girl a mocking smile. Soon she is captured by the gangsters they have just been running away from. “Don’t worry about her. She’ll be fine. She always is,” Salim advises his brother.

However, this advice is not enough for the viewer to calm his fears. It seems, by the look on his face, that Jamal is willing to accept this for now. Yet recall by whom she is captured. Maman is a gangster who saved Jamal, Salim, and Latika from the brink of starvation. They were working for him as organized beggars of the streets of Mumbai. We witness them using a crying baby in order to earn more money. We soon find out that blind beggars make even more money than ones with eyes. They are running away from Maman because he wants to scoop out Jamal’s eyes so that he could earn more money for him. Salim had been put in the position to deceive his brother and lead him to the victimization of having his eyes scooped out with a spoon. Instead he saves his brother and they manage to catch a train—but Latika is left behind. We already know that Jamal and Latika are in love and have made promises about their future together. We thus know the torment that Jamal will endure. Added to the torment of being separated from the person one loves the most—which I too am familiar with—is the fear of her being victimized in ways little Jamal can only dream of. In the case of Slumdog Millionaire it is extreme poverty, and the perennial gangsterism that always seems to accompany the poverty of slums, that keeps Jamal and Latika apart.

If I am honest with myself, I must admit that I loved Slumdog Millionaire. It made me cry and for good reason. Yet there are other standards. Take a look at the story (or the “plot”). Will Jamal Malik win the grand prize? Will a slum dog become a slum dog-millionaire? Did he cheat? How exactly is he winning? As it turns out, he is winning honestly. He is not a genius, though he possesses a heroic soul. Rather he is winning by chance, though it is not luck. The questions are random, and the answers are grounded in past experiences which Jamal must recall. For instance, there is the Benjamin Franklin/$100 bill question, which has an answer from Jamal that originates in a adolescent encounter by Jamal with an American tourist couple, and finally in his later encounter, his reunion with the boy who received the blinded fate just before Jamal was saved by Salim at the hands of Maman, which leads to him finally finding Latika, and Salim saving her for Jamal. In a funny exchange in a restaurant kitchen, we learn that Jamal and Salim have left Bombay where they were finding success as petty criminals and grifters, and returned to Mumbai with the specific intent to find Latika. Salim, very reluctant to be in Mumbai, is doing this for his brother.

If you think about it, it would have been a different story, if Jamal, after losing Latika the first time, would have committed himself to becoming a learned man, working towards going to University, and becoming a professional, to secure the happiness and well being, when he finally finds his lost love again. But in the movie, Jamal gets on the game show Who Want to Be a Millionaire? by chance, while working at a telemarketing firm. The questions of the game show are a device to tell the story of Jamal and Latika and its importance to Jamal’s life.

The movie begins with a question, and it ends with an answer: Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 29 Million rupees. How did he do it? A: He cheated. B: He’s lucky. C: He’s a genius. D: It is written. Much of the story revolves around Jamal being interrogated by a police officer about whether or not he cheated on the game show. Several questions are examined, and this way we learn the story of Jamal. Eventually we learn why Jamal is being accused and whether he cheated or not. Based on the story that is revealed, we must admit that Jamal has not been lucky up to the point of being on the game show; he has suffered much. He is not a genius, he is not very learned, though he does have a very capable mind and brave spirit; he is only a tea server at a telemarketing firm. The final answer of the movie is: “D. It is written”.

Our Slumdog was destined to love Latika, to find her again, to win the fortune that will free them from the forces that have kept them apart for so long. Slumdog does not seem to be in control of his ultimate happiness. Yet this determinism as the overall worldview of the film is not a malevolently fatalistic one. There is still a sense of hope: even for the most wretched and pitiful of men, the universe can still grant you your greatest wish, and this is a universe in which you will be allowed to enjoy that fulfillment.

Is Slumdog totally at the mercy of some higher power, or does he have some choice in the direction of his life? There is much to say about the nature of his character as a motive power of his life’s course. Very early he is presented as a brave boy. Take for example, his decision in the face of a bigger event, an emergency, of which he has no control of, of which he is but a little insignificant pawn. His mother is brutally beaten before him by a murderous religious fanatic, and her death is a certainty. The boy does not panic, he does not try to save her in a foolish futility, he does not roll up in a ball wailing and lamenting awaiting his own murder. His reaction is rather to run away for his own safety, to meet a future of loneliness, fragility, poverty and uncertainty, a boy without a mother or a home. He is left alone perhaps with a brother he rather not live with, who promises already to be a potential enemy.

The most admirable virtue of Jamal Malik is his utter commitment to loving and being with this girl, Latika. It is the most notable indication of the free spirit that he still possesses—amidst the uncontrollable forces of poverty, war, familial separation, crime, prejudice, lack of social opportunity, deceit, betrayal, and simple good and bad luck. Latika, the beautiful, adorable creature, came to him like a bolt of lightning amidst a torrential night. It was as if she knew somewhere within her that she must wait for him in the rain. Slumdog could not resist bringing her into his shelter and into his life. It seems he had no choice. And then—just like that!—she was taken away. This higher power may have endowed him with his impregnable love for Latika, but he held onto the decision intransigently, to always wait for her, always look for her, and to always consider her. From the perspective of a certain kind of storytelling, this virtue in Jamal is the most redeeming aspect of the film. From a certain perspective, this film fails to tell a great story. At least, it could be more thrilling.

Imagine that Jamal decided to separate from Latika on purpose, though despite his intense love for her and his desire to remain with her. Imagine that instead of Latika missing the first train of their youth, he had to leave her to enact some other mission. Perhaps he was committed to avenging the murder of his mother, and so could not have Latika partake in that. Imagine he became a sort of political crusader instead. Imagine we were shown this, but also alongside, the sad experiences that Latika is going through, and imagine that Slumdog learns about her torment—but still decides to remain on his mission of revenge. Now let’s allow him to succeed at his revenge. Now let’s make him a man on the run because of it. But let’s make him overcome that too and be free to take Latika away with him to live happily ever after. But let’s put something else in the way of that. Perhaps she is too angry at him. How will he win her back? Maybe a rich heiress wants him and is preventing his deliverance with Latika. The possibilities are numerous. What these imaginings serve to illustrate is a way of writing a story where a story’s protagonist’s choice of moral values and choice of consequent action, and his value-conflicts within himself and against others, dominate the story and make it more thrilling. I suggest a story where freewill or volition is allowed into the abstract world-view of the artist and his message.

But Slumdog Millionaire is not that kind of story. The protagonist and the other characters are moved by external forces beyond their control. This artistic attitude is not total in the story of Slumdog Millionaire but it is very dominant. The movie starts off with a question. What led to Jamal winning his fortune and winning his love? We know that “it is written”. All those tragic and heart breaking events in Jamal’s life, along with some of the more pleasant ones, were chosen by a higher power for Jamal to experience. They were chosen so that he would have the necessary experiences as material of memory for when he has to answer the game show questions (an event which is also pre-determined). Out of all the millions of people in the same tragic class, this one passionate and intense boy was chosen by this higher power to be happy. I believe that this is exactly the theme of Slumdog Millionaire, that is to say: “Look at what happiness was bestowed upon one man.” Yet this deliverance is not possible to the great majority of men. One simply has to be lucky that you were chosen and your life’s course has been ‘written’ in such a way. Is this inspiring to the general reader or viewer? It can be if one sees Slumdog Millionaire as a folk legend so that the common man can live vicariously through its story, in the face a reality that promises to be not so lucky for the great majority. Some men take comfort in such tales. I do not and cannot.

And yet, within the context of the type of story it is—naturalistic—Slumdog Millionaire was a good movie. Not only was it a tear-jerker but it succeeded in presenting its theme: the deliverance of a particular slumdog. And this is what I like most abut the core artistic aspect of Slumdog Millionaire: that though I am a believer in free will in the most profound sense, and so I don’t support the fatalistic aspect of the movie, it possesses a happy fatalism. It confirms to those who want to believe that, though very rare, sometimes this universe is such that, and despite all the horrors and frustration and agony that may befall a man, a man may fall in love, may attain great wealth, and may win the right to love and live with his one great love: sometimes a man is allowed to be happy.

The main literary shortcoming of Slumdog Millionaire is its failure to present Latika more fully. We never learn why Jamal loves her; we never really learn what values and virtues she possesses that makes Jamal love her. It just is. It is an absolute law. It is a force of nature. It is truly a love that is unconditional in the truest sense; Jamal has no choice about it and he accepts it as his religion, his mania, his lifelong devotion. And it seems that no matter what Latika does, or what type of person she becomes, Jamal will always love her, and that she is beyond reproach and always will be. We must take his love for granted and accept it as Jamal’s primary and dominant motivating force. And this is what we marvel at: we are allowed to witness a believable and intense passion in Jamal for Latika; we see it in his face, in his body language, in his choices of actions, and his willingness to patiently suffer.

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Spoilers... kind of.

As much as I hate to be culturally insensitive, the whole cliche Bollywood choreographed dance extravaganza almost ruined an otherwise good film. I mean, the whole movie is quite somber and intense, and some may find a huge dance party at the train station a fitting way to follow the joyful conclusion, but I for one felt like it was a slap in the face to the movie as a work of art.

Certainly, the movie would have been improved if there had been reasons show to justify his undying love besides her beauty and shared experiences. Also, it would have been more compelling if Jamal had shown an aptitude for something other surviving and not being evil. Happily ever after works better if those living happily ever after seem likely to go on to greater things. I imagine Jamal and Latika living on some farm milking their cows and watching TV. Nothing wrong with that but it's not very compelling.

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I agree almost absolutely with Dan's review below, especially his comments about the awkward ending and the deterministic, passive universe.

Spoilers... kind of.

As much as I hate to be culturally insensitive, the whole cliche Bollywood choreographed dance extravaganza almost ruined an otherwise good film. I mean, the whole movie is quite somber and intense, and some may find a huge dance party at the train station a fitting way to follow the joyful conclusion, but I for one felt like it was a slap in the face to the movie as a work of art.

Certainly, the movie would have been improved if there had been reasons show to justify his undying love besides her beauty and shared experiences. Also, it would have been more compelling if Jamal had shown an aptitude for something other surviving and not being evil. Happily ever after works better if those living happily ever after seem likely to go on to greater things. I imagine Jamal and Latika living on some farm milking their cows and watching TV. Nothing wrong with that but it's not very compelling.

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Just so no one reads only the above, goes to see the film, and gets a shock, I offer a quote from Scott Holleran's blog (see the post from Jan. 7th 2009) about this film:
The highly touted Slumdog Millionaire is consistent, purposeful and predictable, though it is not my type of movie. [...] [it] is also revolting, with numerous scenes depicting abuse, mutilation and torture of children, mostly boys [...]. Beatings, wild dogs, eyes being gouged out with kitchen utensils, sex slavery, burning flesh—this movie is repulsive, dumping a child in feces for laughs and delivering the misery to squeeze an artificially happy ending out of the last few minutes.

Good lord. I've heard good things about the movie. I think I'm becoming more sensitive towards children in my middle years and would not like to see such scenes. This is different from the appreciation I've gained of how nice life is in America by visiting some other, more impoverished countries.

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A Negative Assessment

Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated "Slumdog Millionaire." Hated it. [Facebook Status Update: 5/25/09 9:19 pm]

Ok, I could go on for volumes, but I will try to reduce it to an essential: mindless horror. The emotions it tries to evoke are utterly divorced from thoughts and values (which is why it had no theme, a contrived plot, and substance-less characters).

I am tired of movies that have no purpose, but want to feign substance by making you feel emotion. So how do they make a nearly numb audience, immune to depravity because they are immersed in it, experience emotion? By upping the horror dosage. Strap you to a chair and make you watch brothers betray brothers, mothers get slain by religious zealots before the eyes of their children, virgins raped, murder, suicide. But since all of this ultimately has no meaning to the movie makers or their audience, do it to hip music with flashy effects, and at the end...DANCE. [Facebook Comment: 5/26/09 10:43 am]

If I can help spare anyone the pain of experiencing that movie, and if I can help expose how horrific it really is--that will help ease the agony of having suffered through it myself.

You are welcome to quote me. I should write a more serious and substantial review, but meanwhile, what I have written is all yours. [from Facebook PM: 5/28/09 12:12 pm]

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