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.