Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008) February 17, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
Directed by Danny Boyle
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan
Based on Vikas Swarup’s Q & A
The Slumdog hype has seriously put me out of sorts. Not that it is a bad film that deserves a hammer of expletives but it comes out too nice and too cathartically pleasing that I find it quite annoying. Its supporters have already cemented its reputation, by all means, as this year’s best film, gaining plenty of back up from different award-giving bodies that hand out their picks for this season. It is a favorable work to generate such adulation – – I wouldn’t deny that. While a film with layers of intertextual and multicultural (a British director doing a Bollywood film for an American audience) understanding is an interesting product of our global village, what proves to be more appalling is the varying reaction of people towards the film – – the argument whether it has represented the underbelly of India without exploiting it becomes too trite considering the times we’re in – – because certainly, films are easier to analyze than people. When films are unstoppably glorifying, then that must be the end of cinema, the way Godard envisions it in Week-end.
It is a tale of hope and hopefulness, relying on a cordial narrative that is always on the lookout to tolerate our wanting to escape. It maximizes every advantage of cinematic storytelling: the main character’s quirky predicament, the game show questions that serve as the film’s structure, first to hold the story from start to finish and second to give way to a dozen of flashbacks to beg for our sympathy, the jarring cinematography that fits the somberness of its physical and emotional setting, the typical editing style of MTV babies, fast, hip, oozing with colors that dissolve into our eyes to move our tears back, the charming conclusion that rips off the glory of Bollywood, it is all too cinematic – – and that is what Boyle exploits in Slumdog Millionaire. The loopholes are very visible and he does not attempt to hide them. The material is formulaic, scene after scene of commonplace actions that are easy to relate because we are eating it everyday of our lives. Well, I apologize, that is too subjective – – I am speaking for myself, hello world, I am from the Philippines – – that’s commonplace for me, and it’s even hard to speak what’s commonplace for my fellow Filipinos.
On the periphery is the city, the dirt, the bile of consumerism, the dregs of globalization, the looming hope of comfort, the buildings that signify progress, the lines of communication outside India, the booming economy at the center of the center. Boyle recognizes those with a conscious effort to paint a portrait of Mumbai without actually seeing it, strokes that are evenly marked, surprisingly picture-perfect, and details that strike a chord, but there is an absence of gravity, lack of serious might, it is all transitory, all make-believe.
I get it, films must be entertaining, films must be hopeful, and films must be uplifting. And Slumdog Millionaire has done those. It even seems to me that, with the monstrous hype that comes along with it, its fans are pushing for a Danny Boyle monument, to canonize him, to beatify his latest work and turn it into a holy sacrament. That’s why I choose to belong in the world of movies – – everything is a matter of taste, fake, real, obscure, popular, biases on actors, writers, directors, auteur theory, harsh critics, starred reviews, inconsistencies, spectacles, awards season, the transcending influence of films – – a wealthy pastiche of meta-life. When a critic imposes his opinion, one can easily throw things at him to show vehemence, but when it is the audience who imposes, what is there to do?
The only time when all my disbelief was suspended, for reasons that are difficult to explain and yet the only metaphor I can think of is the jumping pheromones that I see leaping out of other people’s bodies and entering mine, is the sparkling end, the gaiety of moving bodies, the levitating music, the pinchbeck happiness that it carries. I have seen it many times, playing it back to feel that euphoria that all its fans share – – I understand them – – the need to create a fitting closure, a celebration of life. But it’s like walking through a pale nothingness; it only leaves a dashing afterglow, nothing more, with the terrible truth lurking behind.