Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Rated: R for some violence, disturbing images and language.
Length: 120 minutes
Grade: AD+AA=A
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $ million (141 U.S., 186 Intl., 14 DVD)

Written by: Vikas Swarup (Novel), Simon Beaufoy (Screenplay, wrote Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Full Monty)
Directed by: Danny Boyle (Millions, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary) and Loveleen Tandan (India consultant, had a hand in Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding, and The Namesake)
Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Madhur Mittal, and Freida Pinto.

Summary: Jamal is a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” but when he makes it all the way to the final question, the police arrest him because they can’t believe a kid from the slums could know all those answers. The story is built around him recounting the awful events of his life with his brother Salim and his beloved Latika each of which made it possible for him to know those particular answers.

Entertainment Value: A
This is gripping from the very beginning. Every vignette tears at you in some fashion without overwhelming you to the point of wanting to quit. Although the actual events seem plausible enough, the likelihood of receiving just those questions is of course absurd. But only the most persnickety of viewers would actually let that get in the way of loving this.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B, Violence D+, Language C, Illegality C
R is the correct rating, although I think teenagers could watch this because it’s not an enticing R. Every bad thing is clearly bad, so perhaps R-15 is right. The issues are actually sort of intermittent. It opens with a man being tortured, there are two murders (one of a mother), mob violence, and occasional other violence, but the most lasting image involves a man blinding a young boy with boiling oil. That image alone justifies the R. Otherwise, there is implied sex, a scene in a brothel, sporadic drunkenness and occasional strong language, mostly in text subtitles. Also, there are many scenes of poor children stealing and defrauding people. The other thing to be aware of is that there are lots of scenes shot in slums, which means scenes which are unpleasant to watch for a variety of reasons, even though they don’t necessarily merit MPAA demerits.

Significant Content: A
This is a movie which seems to be saying great things, but it’s actually a bit tough to describe exactly what they are. Clearly some of the major themes are the importance of family, the awfulness of betrayal, the power of sacrificial love, the idea of fate, and the continual oppression of the poor. But I think the most significant lesson from the movie is that love endures whereas material possessions do not, and for people to value money over love is a real tragedy.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
As just mentioned, part of what makes this movie so wonderful is that it is moving and memorable without necessarily being a morality play. This allows room for interpretation and discussion, both of which are strongly encouraged by the movie, I think. But for me there are two elements of artistic excellence here. The obvious one is the way this movie serves to make us feel (to the extent this is possible in a Western and comfortable society) the tragedy life as a poor person. In fact, the story serves so well as a pretext for exposing us to the Indian slums that I actually don’t quite know how this movie ever worked as a novel without all the visual amplification. So, in a sense this is like watching two hours of a World Vision commercial with far more devastating images and yet you actually appreciate it even as you’re repulsed. The other artistic accomplishment here is slightly less obvious. This movie seems to be primarily about the love of Jamal and Latika, but their characters don’t change. And, in fact, their story is really just an excuse to tell the truly interesting biography of Salim. So even the real focus of the movie is slightly hidden from view. Quality art, and I haven’t even mentioned to brilliant use of vivid imagery to emotional effect.

Discussion Questions:
~When a movie shows awful things, but they are shown as awful rather than celebrated or shown as enticing, should that affect the way the film is rated? Consider that the Bible contains many awful things in your answer.
~What is the meaning of the end scene with all that money in the bathtub? What is this movie trying to say about the relative value of money and of love? Why does the whole country care about Jamal? What does the audience watching this movie care most about? When the movie ends, what seems more valuable to you, love or money?
~When the movie talks about things “being written,” what is it trying to say? Do you believe in fate? In what sense is the idea of fate compatible with Christianity?
~Try to list all of the examples of the poor being oppressed in this movie. How many of these sorts of abuses are you able to avoid merely by being middle class or by living in a part of town where you can count of police protection?
~What scenes in this movie are most memorable to you? What does each of them have to teach you?
~Would you say that Jamal has earned his money? In what sense?
~Why does Maman use chloroform on the boy before he blinds him? Does this show a compassionate side of him or merely a more ruthless side? Is this scene made more or less horrifying by the absence of the child screaming?
~What lesson does Salim learn at the end of the movie which motivates his choices? Do you interpret a connection with his developing religious devotion? Is he a good brother?
~Compare and contrast the development of Salim and Jamal. Do they do different things? Are their motives and/or level of enthusiasm different? To what degree is each tarnished by his life?
~What are some examples of atonement or redemption in this movie?
~Why does Jamal lie about not knowing the answer to the literature question? What does this accomplish?
~Consider some Biblical ideas and their application to this movie? “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brother.” “What does it profit a man that he gain the whole world but lose his soul.” The parable of the pearl of great price. “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” How might you preach a sermon from this movie?
~Is this movie optimistic? How so? What is the pathway to success, according to this movie? What sort of salvation mechanism is this movie offering?
~In what ways does Jamal’s love of Latika remind you of Christ’s love of the Church.
Overall Grade: A
This won best picture, and it certainly deserved to do so.

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