slumdog millionaire critique2 by q439LF


									Michael Ray Fitzgerald
Feb. 12, 2009

                            Critical analysis of Slumdog Millionaire

       Slumdog Millionaire is racking up the awards. It won “Best Motion Picture, Drama” at

the Golden Globe awards, “Best Screenplay” at the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards,

and seven awards including “Best Picture” at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts

(BAFTA) (“„Slumdog‟ sweeps to BAFTA success,” 2009). In addition, the Director‟s Guild of

America named Danny Boyle “Best Director,” and the movie has been nominated for Best

Motion Picture at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award, the organization that

awards the Oscars (Corliss, 2009: 53). Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times called

Slumdog Millionaire “a cinematic tour de force that is now the leading contender to win the best-

picture Oscar” (Goldstein, 2009: E1).

       Despite its huge success, Slumdog Millionaire may be the most overrated movie of the

year if not the decade. The whole film is based on two crucial lapses in logic—logical problems

it overcomes by great leaps of faith. But faith is the opposite of logic, and movies operate on

emotion. It‟s no wonder then that movies are the realm of myth.

       We know Slumdog Millionaire will have a happy ending, because the story begins with

the ending (Boyle, 2008). Indeed, its story is so predictable we know in the first scene how it will

end; the viewer is told right up front, in a very obvious manner. The movie makes a promise and

delivers it—all tied up in a nice, neat bow.
Fitzgerald. Critical analysis of Slumdog Millionaire.                                                   2

          Slumdog Millionaire’s screenplay by Simon Beaufoy was based on the novel Q&A by

Vikas Swarup. This is sentimental, formulaic stuff: the incredible adventures of a pair of star-

crossed “soul mates” who fight their way through hell and high water to be together. Well, the

boy (Dev Patel as Jamal) does most of the fighting; the girl (Freida Pinto as Latika) gives up

early on. But faith and the power of true love win in the end, and, as we all know, they live

happily ever after. This time-tested formula makes for a feel-good “date flick.”

          The idea of a one-and-only “true love” or “soul mate,” promulgated in gazillions of

novels and Hollywood movies, is sadly misleading and perhaps more than a bit damaging for the

unfortunate people who fall for it. Where is it written that we can only truly love one person for

the rest of our lives? If that is the case, then it‟s a terrible thing indeed if that person doesn‟t love

us, or if he or she dumps us or dies—life without that person would presumably not be worth


          This is only one of the absurd presumptions that form the foundations for Slumdog

Millionaire’s main message. The movie‟s theme is, “It is written.” The obvious question here is:

written in what and by whom? Never-ending devotion for your soul mate and to God are

conflated—these are presented as different aspects of the same concept.

          Slumdog Millionaire’s religious theme is obscured under—or, rather, behind—Jamal‟s

relentless struggle to be with—and to rescue—Latika, his one and only love. Combine the Book

of Job, in which both God and the devil test Job‟s patience and loyalty, with a soapy love story

and you get the picture (Book of Job, Old Testament).

          Visually, the film is grossly overdone—too many gimmicks, too many jump cuts, too

many effects, very much like a music video. It even ends with a celebratory street-dance scene

straight out of Michael Jackson‟s video for Thriller (Jackson, 1983).
Fitzgerald. Critical analysis of Slumdog Millionaire.                                              3

       The movie is emotionally manipulative, to say the least. It mainly plays to most people‟s

sense of empathy for the underdog, as we are invited to identify with the ever-struggling

protagonist, Jamal Malik. Slumdog Millionaire’s storyline cleverly adheres to mainstream

(Western) narrative conventions: everyone loves a loser who hangs in there against all odds and

finally wins. This is perhaps the very definition of a hero. The almost entirely WASP-ish

audience I sat with actually applauded at the end.

       In this era of sometimes fatal jealousies among Abrahamic sects, maybe a little religious

tolerance might be a positive step—at least compared to the prospect of fighting another series of

Holy Crusades, which is where the West and the East seemed to be heading after 9/11. Maybe

it‟s a good thing that Westerners see Muslims portrayed as human beings instead of demons for a

change. Maybe this is the right movie for the right time: we now have a president who is a

Christian with an Arabic name (his father was Muslim), so perhaps it‟s time for a little healing

between Christians and Muslims.

       Slumdog Millionaire is not going to do much for Muslim-Hindu relation, however. It

depicts a great deal of Hindu violence against Muslims but never the other way around.

Moreover, there is no historical context or explanation for the Hindus‟ anger—they are simply

portrayed as sadistic, irrational, and implacably hostile. It depicts Indian Muslims mostly as

helpless victims of poverty and Hindu prejudice. Perhaps Muslims are indeed such victims, but

this film paints them as the only poverty-stricken, oppressed minority in India.

       This, then, is a film designed to appeal to oppressed Muslims—a huge, worldwide

audience. At the same time it is astute enough to appeal to Western sensibilities and story styles.

Its religious agenda is subtle: God (or Fate) has chosen to favor this young couple. But why?
Fitzgerald. Critical analysis of Slumdog Millionaire.                                                4

       Actually, there is an underlying religious theme in most movies, especially Hollywood

movies. Screenwriter and college instructor Howard Suber alludes to this in his book, The Power

of Film: justice must always be done; audiences everywhere demand it (Suber, 2006: 137).

Judging from the success of Slumdog, there must be something to Suber‟s theory. Most viewers

probably don‟t realize that the assumption that justice always prevails hinges on the idea that we

are living in a giant panopticon with a cosmic judge looking down on all of us. Apparently this is

one of those ideas most people accept as children and rarely give much thought to.

       However, if viewers were to apply a little logic instead of thinking with their emotions,

they might add up the two propositions offered in the film: A) that Allah is looking out for these

two glorious lovers and B) that millions of Muslims are being abused and oppressed in India

(and elsewhere). A logical person might arrive at an inescapable philosophical impasse: how can

both of these propositions be true at the same time? God has the power to intervene to rescue this

nice young couple, yet he lets millions if not billions of his true believers suffer abuse,

starvation, degradation, mutilation, even torture. What, then, makes these Jamal and Latika—

who don‟t even seem all that religious—so much more worthy than everyone else? Are they

purer? Prettier? Younger? Stronger?

       Perhaps we will find out in the inevitable sequel, which could have Jamal and Latika pen

a self-improvement book that will enlighten and assist their fellow believers: How We Won

Allah’s Lottery. They can even appear on Oprah—she has already lauded the film on her TV talk

show (Kriparos, 2009). Winfrey could play herself in the sequel. Better still, Jamal and Latika

could start their own TV talk show and sell their ideas to millions—no, billions—of less-

fortunate Muslims: Jamal and Latika could become the Jim and Tammy of Islam.

                                               # # #
Fitzgerald. Critical analysis of Slumdog Millionaire.                                        5

                                        WORKS CITED

Book of Job (Old Testament), King James Bible (Boston, Mass.: Whittemore Associates, Inc.)

Corliss, Richard, “From Slumdog to Top Dog,” Time 173. 9 Feb. 2009: 53-55.

Goldstein, Patrick, “The Studio Report Card: Passing on „Slumdog,‟ Bringing Indy Back…” Los
     Angeles Times. 8 Feb. 2009: E1.

Jackson, Michael, “Thriller.” Thriller. Epic Records/Sony Music, 1983. Video footage available
at <>

King, Susan, “DGA tabs Boyle for „Millionaire,‟” Los Angeles Times. 2 Feb. 2009: E-3.
Database: ProQuest Newspapers.

Kriparos, Nancy, “Oprah Talks About „Slumdog Millionaire,‟” Awards 23 Jan. 2009.

Slumdog Millionaire, dir. Danny Boyle, Celador Films/Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2008.

“Slumdog sweeps to BAFTA success.” BBC World News America. 8 Feb. 2009.

Suber, Howard. The Power of Film (Los Angeles: Michael Wiese Productions, 2006) 137.

Spines, Christine and Nicole Sperling, “‟Slumdog‟ Leads the Pack (Best Picture Nominees),”
     Entertainment Weekly 1032/1033. 30 January 2009: 42-43. Database: Wilson OmniFile
     Full Text Mega.

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