Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The limits of an audience's endurance.

The new film Slumdog Millionaire is getting great reviews and critical acclaim. Set in India, much of it in Mumbai, it is not actually a Bollywood movie, instead directed by Danny Boyle, best known for Trainspotting, a movie about Scottish junkies, and 28 Days Later, a stylish zombie movie from a few years back.

If you haven't seen it yet, the question you should ask yourself is this. How much pain, cruelty and physical humiliation are you willing to see characters you are rooting for be subjected to? Does that equation change if the characters so subjected are children?

Matty Boy is not completely naive. All drama is about characters in jeopardy. But in Slumdog Millionaire, though some of the jeopardy is emotional, director Boyle highlights that emotional jeopardy and pain with lots and lots of physical jeopardy and pain. Torture, beatings and physical disfiguration feel like about half the screen time of the film, and another quarter of the film is watching little kids grow up in filth and squalor.

You should know the truth about this movie going into it, because the way its being sold is that it is about a beautiful girl in a yellow dress, played by model turned actress Frieda Pinto in her first onscreen performance. Back in May, I wrote a film review of 21 which discussed the idea of instant lust object, where I wrote that Kate Bosworth didn't really fit the bill very well and Ursula Andress in Doctor No was near the head of the class. Indian films use the instant lust object plot device about as often as they use spectacular song and dance numbers, which is to say in nearly every film. Like scores of actresses from India or of Indian ancestry, Ms. Pinto is astonishingly gorgeous, and if the still camera lens loves her, the moving camera lens worships her as unto a goddess.

Not to give too much of the film away, but the ads for the film won't tell you. You do get to look at a very, very pretty girl for a few minutes when you go to see Slumdog Millionaire and there is a happy ending after a fashion, but you pay for it not only at the box office, but in having to endure scene after scene of disgusting physical degradation of innocent characters, many of them small children.


dguzman said...

So many Indian films are like this! Salaam Bombay!, for instance, features a cute little smiling kid on the cover, and I immediately thought--"oh, this kid's gonna break out of the slums and squalor!" Not so much. I was depressed for days after watching it!

namastenancy said...

Ditto for me. Not only Salaam Bombay but "Born into Brothels" which was a documentary so I rather expected the pain - but not the pain of reading that most of the families of the girls rejected the opportunity to send them to school and instead, sold them to brothels. I suppose that we don't understand the dire financial circumstances of that type of poverty but I was sick to my stomach to think of that cycle being repeated endlessly. Still, so many American movies feature physical cruelty and torture but I guess we can distance ourselves because they are only "fictional" characters. When you know it's real people, it's a lot harder to stomach.
And Bollywood actresses are so astonishingly beautiful that I can SO totally believe at love at first sight.

Karlacita! said...

Thanks for the warning. I had read a review that objected to the darkness of the film, yet they're selling it as the feel-good movie of the year.

Here's the thing about pain. I can imagine it. The blood, gore, and horror in movies is tedious. I can also imagine love, and lust, and every other human situation. I don't need to be shown in full-on technicolor.

I think the scariest character and torture scene EVER is in the movie Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier as the evil Nazi dentist. "Is it safe?" Jayzus! That still scares me.

That was some classy filmmaking that trusted the audience somewhat. I don't see that very often anymore. Everything is telegraphed and telescoped and literalized and trivialized.

Let's talk about movies where the writing, acting, and directing came together to suggest something that you can still feel.

Matty Boy said...

Well, Karlacita!, we both love The Wire and there are plenty of graphic depictions of violence and degradation to characters we care about in that show. Why is it acceptable there and not in Slumdog?

My theory is that most of the people who get got on the mean streets of Baltimore are in "the game", and as such semi-willing participants. This is why shooting the crown off of a colored lady on a Sunday morning is not the most graphic act of violence on the show, but it is the one that is most deserving of retribution.

Mauigirl said...

Thanks for the warning - I was wondering what it was about because they advertised it about every 3 minutes the other night when I was watching something.

Thanks also for revealing the director did Trainspotting. What a dismal depressing movie that was. It was so bad we actually didn't even watch the whole thing (we had rented it).

Anonymous said...

I'll take a pass right now. Some movies are just beyond my limits. Sounds like this one would be right now.

Thank you for posting about it. We're planning to see a movie over the holidays so we'll take this off the list.

CDP said...

I'd actually read this in one of the few lukewarm reviews of the movie, so it's already off my list. I'm with Karlacita on "Marathon Man". Holy cow, that is one of the scariest movie scenes ever; the most chilling part is when Olivier carefully washes his hands. Shudder.