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[personal profile] desayunoencama
So, earlier this week I went with my friend Jesus to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. It was interesting (if often difficult) to watch, but I have been upset ever since by a number of aspects. And why else does one have a blog if not to rant about these things? :-)

If you haven't seen the film, I'll give you a chance to skip the rest of this post if you want to avoid spoilers. (For the triggery, you should know that the film includes numerous scenes of torture and violence, which is certainly NOT what I was expecting from what everyone keeps calling a "feel good" film.)

In fact, I think only in America could this film be considered a feel good film, because it is such a facile retelling of the rags to riches story, which happens through pure luck. Only in the US is this considered a viable plot (and a commercial one at that).

I was a bit surprised when it ended because to me, the only interesting part of the story STARTS there. It's hard not knowing before going in to the film that a boy from the slums wins 20 million rupees on a quiz show (can we say "deus ex machina"?). And the structure of the film, interleaving between the quiz show present and his growing up past, also makes this quite obvious. You root for him, but you also know all along that he's going to win. And that's it. It's all just so flat.

I knew all this before going in. What I what to know is what does he do with the money. What happens now that he's won the girl, after they've suffered so much to find each other again? Can they overcome those scars and find happiness together? We don't know; the curtain is drawn there, just where things get interesting. How does he react when he hears about what happened to his brother? How does he feel?

It was all so frustrating for me.

We suffered through all the scenes of torture and the difficult childhood. Yes, he triumphed, a mix of luck and loyalty from friends/family, although a loyalty which stabs him quite often as well.

And there was just no payoff for all of that, at least from my point of view.

We don't know what sort of person that made him into, because he's never allowed to do anything. Things happen to him, and that's it. He wins 20 million rupees and that's it. End of story.

This is one reason I have such problems with commercial movies, in general, and how its stories are told, and therefore wind up going so seldom to the cinema; it's about how I consume narratives, and what works or doesn't for me. (I no doubt will see the new Almodovar at some point, although I'm in no rush. His VOLVER was structurally so flat as well; 20 minutes in I knew exactly what was going to happen throughout, yawn.)

In many ways, I can stomach American TV much better than its film, because the format is tighter: 30 minutes, with breaks for commercials, it's structured in little story arcs with an overall arc to hold the episode together but still leave things open enough for next episode(s). It's a tighter, cleaner format in a lot of ways. And it doesn't have the forced endings of so many films.

The only director I find interesting these days is Turkish-Italian Ferzan Ozpetek, whose LE FATE IGNORANTI I (with the horrible English title of HIS SECRET LIFE) think is just superbly structured, with each scene setting up resonances for later scenes in addition to the surface action, and ending in such a way as to give us closure but leave everything open. But many of his other films are juicy and interesting, even if (like HAREM SOARE) they ultimately fail, or fall short of their ambitions.

As my friend Jesus pointed out, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is probably the first film with a Muslim protagonist to win an Oscar, and that's a data point in its favor.

But I still found it a very frustrating and ultimately unrewarding viewing experience.


Date: 2009-04-03 02:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Everybody knows plot is the most important element?

It's not a very American film or American plot. British. Director Danny Boyle wuz born in Manchester, England. Screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, British from an Indian (posted in South Africa) novel by Vikas Swarup. Main actor, Dev Patel, English. Couple of Indian actors too.

There's a lot that keeps it from being a Disney movie. It's a fairy tale, but there's no magic wand. The girl's carrying a scar at the end. The hero's brother is dead. There's a cost paid for the fairy gold. It wasn't just found at the end of the rainbow. The hero's life is the training for the quest.

As my English Shakespeare profs always ustta say: "Comedies always end at the marriage -- that's when the tragedies starts." Ittsa comedy. You're supposed to imagine them happy ever after, and not see how the rest of their lives can never measure up to those glorious few minutes on the stage as national "heroes."

It sounds like you wanted to see some other movie. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think you're placing too much value on plot.

Date: 2009-04-03 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I also enjoy Ferzan Ozpetek's work. Most people I know don't.

Date: 2009-04-03 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, it was the poverty porn that bothered me, too.

Date: 2009-04-03 02:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I actually walked out of Slumdog Millionaire because I couldn't take the violence. I found the torture scenes almost unbearable, and right when somebody intentionally blinded a child, I left. I'm not saying that those scenes weren't important or artistically justified--I'm just saying that I couldn't take them, and I'm surprised so many people seem unbothered.

Date: 2009-04-03 05:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am not merely surprised that so many people seem unbothered, I am actually upset that it doesn't bother more people, or even merit comment. It seems for most people/media, as long as he gets the money and the girl, anything else is irrelevant.

Date: 2009-04-03 02:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Have you seen this?,1518,614355,00.html

Date: 2009-04-03 04:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I hadn't seen that, many thanks.

Date: 2009-04-03 03:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with you 100 percent. My partner and I felt let down when we saw the film (and this was before the major award hype.) It didn't DO anything or GO anywhere. We thought that perhaps because we were gay that it didn't seem fantastic, because of it's sloppy heterosexual love story...but you clarified some of the wrongness of it.

Date: 2009-04-03 05:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for this. I didn't care for it either and felt like I was the only one. It was hard for me to reconcile what the protagonist's brother does in the end with the "happy ending" feeling that we're supposed to get.

Date: 2009-04-03 07:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I had mixed feelings about the film.

The part I missed most--and I realize this is my issue as a viewer, because it wasn't necessary for the film as it was constructed--was how he had gotten the job as the tea wallah and how he was living at that point, because he had made a "step up" (if you will) already just by doing that.

As a female viewer, I noted that the girl was literally there only as a prize. She had no agency. While I realize that she was in circumstances that allowed her very little agency, and that it was his story, she was still more or less a pretty cipher.

Out of curiosity, have you seen The Wire?

Date: 2009-04-03 11:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I can't go see it because I read "Q and A" and adored it, and everything I'm told about the movie (including what you've said, above) leaves me cold - they added a romance? Really? Ugh.

Date: 2009-04-03 11:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow, this is really helpful. I have had very little to vaguely no interest in seeing this movie and could never explain why, and was getting increasingly annoyed by people saying how great it was without really saying anything at all.

Thank you for putting into words why I didn't want to see this movie. I still don't.

Date: 2009-04-04 06:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for posting your response to Slumdog Millionaire. I was troubled by many of the aspects that you describe. I don't think that people's responses are either/or, though. At least, not the people I talked to. They were very distraught by the violence (one of my aunts tried to leave the theater at one point, but thought she was locked in and stayed to the end). I, too, wanted to leave at the beginning.

I don't begin to pretend that the movie was representative of anyone, much like soap operas or Hollywood productions. They are all glorified views of life; many people I know - myself included - go to movies to escape.

What I found most interesting was your comment about how the story ended. And that is a trope; it seems once the gal (or guy) is won, the story is up. And I have been actively looking for stories that depict couples well into their relationships. Stories where the couples are are solid; not the ones that are falling apart, because those too are too dramatic. I actually wonder sometimes if we see such a high divorce rate because breaking up is what is reflected in so much media.

What would have redeemed the film for you, out of curiosity?

Date: 2009-04-04 04:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It doesn't matter that it wasn't an "American" behind the camera; this _is_ the kind of tale that profoundly resonates with the American mythos; the fact it takes place in a globalized context is, frankly, barely relevant to changing the fact that it is peddling what is essentially the quintessential Americanized fantasy, now exported globally. Have a Coke and a smile.

I thought this movie sucked, for all the reasons already enumerated. I have no idea why people found it captivating. None.
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