Thursday, November 6, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

I like when the audience starts clapping at the end of a movie. Its always spontaneous because it can never be expected. No one is there to hear it-- no final bows, no obligatory encores. Movie applause is the purest form of all applause because we do it out of true gratitude. It legitimizes thankfulness and honors excitement. As I said, I like when the audience starts clapping at the end of a movie-- we all clapped at the end of this one.

Slumdog Millionaire is a love story in that it is a story about love. Its about a very pure form of love and the story is one of loving, not the act of falling into nor the art of searching. The love exists to its utmost extent from the moment Jamal loses Latika as a young boy and it extends through the final scene when he finds her again as a grown man. There is no guessing nor jarring character transformation... Jamal loves Latika and Latika loves Jamal. Done. The guessing comes in how the hell they can ever be together.

Unlike dear Romeo and Juliet-- who also had a few hurtles in coming together--Jamal and Latika are from the same walk of life. They come from the slums of India. But like Romeo and Juliet, they are undoubtedly star crossed.

The depth of this movie is found in its emotion, not in the dissection of character. I tend to gravitate toward films driven by dialogue. I like to collect bits and pieces of character evidence that I can reassemble into reason, motivation, and explanation for why a character does what he does or acts as she will. My favorite type of movie takes place over a weekend, in one house, and its all talk, talk, talk. (The Philadelphia Story anyone? The Family Stone? The Big Chill?) This movie is nothing of the sort. Its sweeping, its majestic, and epic (in its own quiet way.) And I couldn't take my eyes from this tale.

Its also about a type of love of which I'm not always convinced... this isnt phillia, this is eros. It isn't the gracefulness of agape, nor the tension of passion. Its eros... true love. All-knowing-never-second-guessing-love. Dickens puts it best... I'll tell you, says Miss Havisham to a terrified young Pip, what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter. (As we all roll our eyes.)

Well, Jamal's devotion carried him back to Mumbai after successfully escaping an evil child-blinding gangster. His self-humiliation brought out rage and violence in his otherwise gentle self anytime anyone dared disgrace Latika with word or action. Jamal submit himself directly to danger by vowing to help Latika escape her form of slavery, and he gave up his heart long ago. He gave Latika his heart the moment his hand left hers as children running after a train. And-- eye rolling aside--Jamal convinced me of eros. Of course he did.

The coming together of Jamal and Latika forms in mechanical clicks. You can hear it as every piece of Jamal's life starts pointing toward a single moment... click, click, click. Like one of those crazy deadbolt locks in old spy movies. And suddenly the pieces snap into motion and the clock starts ticking and Jamal and Latika are where they should be because it is written.

This unfolds under the lens of the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire... curious, right? But the clicking pieces of Jamal's young life absolutely mirror a game show. And the emotional impact serves us flawlessly. We hold our breath for Jamal in both his life and his vital million dollar answers. Its a clear metaphor for all of our lives and for our... well, our destinies.

Each step we take, hurdle we jump, and Siren we avoid brings us one step closer to the final destination. Just like a trivia-based game show. Get it?
And you mustn't cheat, either. You must live honestly, just as Jamal proved to all of us. In his game show, Jamal recalls another harsh, painful, pivotal moment of his life with each question he is asked. In the end, it was his life and the living of it that brings him finally to Latika, who turns out to be (wait for it...) his phone-a-friend. Its beautiful. And extremely smart writing. Click, click, click.

This is a gorgeous film. Just stunning. And it's rumored to be Oscar-worthy. So, just as I rooted for Jamal's million dollar answer and for his million dollar kiss... I will be rooting for it's statue as well. Standing ovation, everyone. Applause all around.

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