Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some more venom on contemporary films

Another recent film that didn't impress me much (and yes, I am saying "didn't impress me much") with a Shania Twain-like twang, was "Slumdog Millionaire". It started off well, as a colourful and imaginative adventure, but descended into cliche and predictability by the end.

Today I saw an interview with the author of the novel on which the movie is based. He said the message of the story was "Sometimes you learn more about life by being street-smart". I thought this was strange and I didn't feel the story said that in a very credible way at all. While the main character's survival of his life to date certainly depended on his ingenuity and resilience, his success in the quiz show (aside from withstanding the torture between the days of the TV filming) was totally due to luck, or, if you like, fate.

So while there are heroic aspects of the character's life, there is also an element of passivity in him wining "Who wants to be a millionaire". He knows the answer to almost every question by improbable fortune rather than any formal education. Indeed, he even guesses the last answer.
There's some kind of anti-intellectualism going on here - a message, of comfort for some, that formal education is not of value - that its better to rely on luck than on your brain.

In some "moral narrative" sense the character "earns" the luck in the quiz show by surviving so much hardship in his life. It is a moral equation though that excuses the audience from being overly confronted by the reality of slum life in India - we get a voyeuristic taste of the extremes of Indian poverty, but with a nice sugar-coated ending so we can forget it as soon as the film is over.

The love story I thought was particularly prosaic - a damsel who is allowed distress (but not character devlopment) is rescued by a (rather emotionally one-tracked) knight in shining armour.

There are much worse films showing in the cinema than "Slumdog millionaire". But it is pretty lite stuff and, IMHO, not deserving of all the awards and praise it is receiving.

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