Danny Boyle is famous for setting misery to an upbeat tempo. Trainspotting, his devastating 1996 take on heroin addiction, comes across as horrifying and yet almost exhilarating, too. In it, Boyle uses pounding, zippy music, choosing the same song (Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”) to accompany the horrors of an addict coming off junk as a mainstream company (Royal Caribbean) would later use to sell its family-friendly cruises. Twelve years on, the director has done it again. In a unwaveringly delightful way, Slumdog Millionaire presents the repeated betrayal and brutalizing of a young Indian man before the backdrop of gorgeous scenery and to the tune of catchy Indian dance music. There’s something unseemly about bopping in one’s seat while watching a hero get electrocuted, his loved one murdered, a child purposely blinded, and yet…
Maybe it’s unwise to compare movies with such disparate plot lines and made over a decade apart, but Slumdog Millionaire’s genius stroke (exploding a depressing reality by over-stuffing it with life) is too familiar to leave without comment. Boyle’s newest film has nearly as much in common with the spirit of Trainspotting as it does with the buoyant Bollywood movies from which it takes much inspiration. Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a poor teenager who becomes a surprisingly successful contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? As he explains to suspicious police how he—a kid who spent his formative years on the streets of Mumbai—has come up with the correct answers, he recounts the defining events of his young life, including how he came to love a young prostitute named Latika (Freida Pinto).
While Boyle does make the questionable move of putting his main character through more crap (sometimes literally) than your average soap opera packs into an entire season, he doesn’t let it bog him down. There is one scene—when Jamal’s brother Salim pulls a gun on the crooked orphanage director the boys escaped as children—that feels particularly unreal. But Danny Boyle makes reality seem beside the point. It’s reality sped up and magnified that makes his work a joyful ride—as unlikely but sure a source of fun as a drop on a roller coaster.
If you find Boyle’s approach indulgent, remember how well he handles his actors. Or maybe they’re the ones who deserve the credit, but whatever the case, Patel and Pinto playing their roles straight up, with no affected cuteness, helps temper the more fantastic and freewheeling aspects of the movie. The way Patel’s Jamal endures getting roughed up by the police with a hangdog patience, rather than acting wounded or outraged, is a testament to Patel’s restraint. It’s also one of the saddest, if not the most dramatic, parts of the film.
If you want to see a less disturbing Danny Boyle work you can bypass Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire altogether and go straight for Millions, his amiable 2004 chronicle of a seven-year-old’s attempt to spend a bag of money before time runs out. The strange thing is, though, that it’s not necessarily more uplifting. Yes, horrible things happen to Jamal. But so do good ones, most importantly an enduring, pure love for Latika that carries him ever forward to the life he was apparently destined to lead all along. (In this regard, his sense of purpose and tenacity don’t hurt either.) How fun can misery be? Maybe Slumdog Millionaire’s answer is that it can be positively joyful when seen as something already decided. If it is written that Jamal should suffer, maybe it is written, too, that he should triumph.
—Marni Soupcoff is deputy comment editor at Canada’s National Post.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire