Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The root of all evil makes for a good movie

Not that I want to ride the bandwagon, but I only recently saw Slumdog Millionare for the first time. I also don't want to ride on the coat tails of Citizen Kane, but there is one sentence that almost sums up the whole movie. One of the security guards is listening to our protagonist Jamal Malik's life story and he nonchalantly says that most of life's problems stem from money and women. Almost from the moment we are introduced to the five year old Jamal, we see that one force or the other is dictating the course of his existence.
The first chronological action of Jamal's that we witness is him and friends playing cricket on an empty airport runway because their local slums do not have adequate room. When he jumps into an open air public toilet to receive his hero's autograph, his brother waits only a few hours to steal the photo and pawns it. His mother's death is one of the few exceptions in the film. That tragedy is a result of uncompromising hatred. I could make the argument that this is a result of an equal and opposite passion to that of love, which is what is really meant by "women" in the phrase, but I won't because I don't believe this. What follows is certainly money related: Living in a box cart, which is exactly where the other problem maker rears its head. Jamal and his brother Salim befriend Latika, a fellow slumdog that also lost her family to the anti-Muslim riots of that day. They quickly become loyal companions and are all sucked into a camp for training beggars by the gangster Maman, who is obviously in it for the money. The sweet taste of the Coca Cola he offers the boys when they meet is symbolic of legal tender's constant presence in the movie. In fact, rupees are so important to the movie that Salim almost has his eyes cut out in hopes of arousing sympathy in beggars. When the brothers escape, they leave behind Latika unintentionally, setting up the women troubles to come later in the story. As for the Maliks, they travel in the roofs of trains in hopes of swindling food, they steal shoes and give phony tours at the Taj Mahal. They even get in trouble with the brutal police in front of rich Americans in hopes of getting a few dollars in exchange for a bruised eye. The movie shows the life of crime as quite appealing to the alternative. An honest Joe seems to be a hungry one. They eventually end up as restaurant workers. Once again, they are in a position where they are surrounded by those that are "better" than they are, enjoying the sweat of their labor. After years, they decide (mostly by Jamal's heartache) it has been too long since last seeing Latika, so they go back across India in search of her. They find that she is the star of Maman's exploitation ring. The only reason they escape with their lives is because Salim pulls out a colt .45 and ruthlessly kills the gangster. His last action is to hand over his wallet to the gun blazing adolescent, so they are able to rent a hotel room that night. Of course, money is power is embodied in Salim's bullying of his brother out of the room at gun point so that he may be alone with Latika, presumably to rape her. Because she intervenes voluntarily, as oppose to watching her friend be shot, Jamal feels betrayed and heartbroken. For years, he is separated from his brother. Once reunited years later, the only slightly bitter Jamal finds that his brother never lost the addiction to money and power that he adopted that night. Salim works for a different gangster named Javed. Who should this rich man's wife be, but the emotionally distraught Latika. Jamal is still very much in love with her and tries to reunite and runoff with her, but Javed sends his men (including Salim) to abduct her and bring her back to a different and well guarded house.
Jamal decides to go on an Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" Somehow believing that this will help him find her. In a show where the whole point is to make money (one of the questions is who is on the American one hundred dollar bill), Jamal consistently risks everything rather than getting away with a smaller amount of money, as if he is stalling to give Latika time to escape and find her way to the most televised place in India. Even the host wants to screw over hero out of the money he deserves, feeding him wrong answers he does not take, and having police accuse him of cheating in hopes of not letting him get rich like he did (as he was also a slumdog). Eventually, even Salim feels the love for both his brother and Latika and helps her escape. In a blatantly symbolic manner, Salim gets into a bath tub full of money after his epiphany and awaits his death. What killed him inside years earlier, is now his tool of literal suicide. After a number of heart pounding questions, Jamal finally wins the twenty million rupees, becoming the show's first winner in India. However, it wouldn't be a sentimental movie if he was not sitting at the train station he wished to run off with Latika at, looking horribly depressed (as if his recent victory were not rich enough for him) and then seeing the love of his life approaching him and ending the movie with a kiss.
I assume that yellow is the Indian color of love, or something to that effect because she wears a top of that color in every fantasy Jamal has of Latika in the latter half of the movie and is the last thing she wears for the final thirty or so minutes of the move.
Money is the root of all evil, is strongly supported in the film. Money causes Jamal nothing but trouble and never amounts to anything positive, making his long face at the train station justifiable. However, love is given way too much credit for happiness (as it usually is in just about every story). He does suffer for his love but eventually is rewarded for it, but the same can be said for money as he becomes affluent in the end. Danny Boyle's ultimate message for the movie is that love conquers all, though money plays an important role, it can not solely make one happy. As cliche as it is, all the gangsters and Salim either die or very despicable characters. Only Latika and Jamal make it out uncorrupted and full of bliss, making it a very Bollywood ending (the dance scene certainly added to this).


  1. Very detailed and wonderfully written comments, Dom. I'll need to read it again to grasp everything you said, but at the time, I missed the significance of the line by the guard, but now thinking about it, your analysis is very good. You have learned to view films very deeply, and that shows. You gave concrete examples of love and money, throughout the film. Clearly, you were paying very close attention to this film. Very nice! I may comment this again when I am more awake but I just wanted a comment on this because your thoughts are quite good and well-expressed.

  2. Far from being meaningless jibberish, I thought your commentary on Slumdog Millionaire was very intelligent and well thought out. Your analysis is right on the "money."

  3. Even though I'm not a huge fan of Slumdog (I thought it was good, not great) I did really enjoy your comments. Very insightful and intelligent! I like some of the things you wrote about Salim- I thought he was the most compelling character in the movie.

    [Also, I'm getting more and more disappointed that you haven't written anything about the Graduate yet Dom. What's the point of me lending you my DVD if you never post a blog expressing your undying gratitude? Jeez...]

  4. Beautifully done I cant agree more about slumdog millionaire, I felt the title of this post was quite fitting