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Slumdog Millionaire - is it written?
I just saw Slumdog Millonaire today. I loved the movie. It is not a masterpiece but it is an extremely good and intelligent movie. It is also very moving. I should add that I'm generally a fan of Danny Boyle's films.

I'll give a quick interpretation of the movie, so SPOILER ALERT - don't continue reading unless you saw the film or don't care to know everything before hand.

First notice the scene with the shit. That scene summarizes the whole movie: His passion leads him to go through shit, but in the end that shit is exactly what allows him to get what he wants.
(The banal version: he is locked in a shithole but sees the sun, the aspirations (above) and the way out (through the bottom). I would prefer to bring the image of him covered in shit running, but couldn't find a good one.)

Second, the It is written scene. The show's (who wants to be a millionaire) host writes him the right answer. He reads it, but then he knows by now people jealousy and what it makes them do and understands the host's jealousy and that he should say the opposite. (He uses a 50/50 to get a choice of 2, and so to have an opposite). That's one reading. The other, and the reason he smiles, is that nothing is written. He is a slumdog and supposed to continue to be, or at least not to advance much - that is what people see is written, that is what the policemen at the beginning see. But not himself, no, he doesn't think his life is written but is yet to be written. In that scene he claims his future. It is no longer his past which led to this point, his past which gives him the answer, no, he is now claiming an unwritten future for himself!

On the other side of it the movie shows nicely how at every moment we are constructed from our past.  (some could be reminded of the good bad who knows joke). But then again, the past does not decide our future.
The question of fate, and Karma, the movie taking place in India, is always present. With the ending being that at the end, well, your past, claiming your future takes you only so far, but it is luck which decides at the end.

I also thought the acting was superb.

The last scene I'll mention is the great dance scene to close the movie, a la Bollywood. I must admit I've never seen a Bollywood film. I've seen many Indian films, for example the great Satyajit Ray, and some modern ones, but it's the first time I really feel like seeing one. Besides being simply fun, it also made me think how difficult it is to understand what is usually called low-brow-culture of a different culture. I know the American one very well, and I can relate to the high-brow culture of other cultures with Ray, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and so on, but their popular culture - that's much more inaccessible I feel. (which reminds me of this post on the Bidet).

What then did you think of the movie? Or of the questions on culture it raises?
Films Discussed
Slumdog Millionaire

Very interesting reading, Michel. I just saw it and loved the movie too.  I thought the movie shows great faith in the human being and how one’s destiny is in one’s own hands. You can choose to live as a liar and a killer or as an honest and truthful being and it doesn’t matter where you come from - it’s a choice, and it’s nicely shown through the difference in the brother’s characters.  The other thing I liked is the movie’s reflection on how the good and the evil are mixed together. (And, I liked that in the battle between good and evil, it is the good that wins as the bad brother sacrifices his life)

I’m not sure though on what you meant by the it is written scene. Your first reading seemed to me the most logical. The second reading, you mean that this is a turning point in the movie - he doesn’t know the answer as the answer is not in his past? He’s claiming his future, but to do so in the way it happened (making the good choice) implies that he read well the guy’s mind or that he completely disregarded it and went with his instinct (in which case it is written). Anyway, I’m not sure that I understood well this part of your post, maybe you could explain?
Hi Anita,
Yes, maybe what I wrote about the it is written scene wasn't clear enough.

The questions are split to 3 parts.
1, The first part, he knows from his past. All these questions his past led him to know the answer to.

2. The middle part is the question where the show's host tells him it is written, and gives him the answer -B. He tells him that his road led him to this point and it is written that he should choose B. But he doesn't accept that his past controls his future. Where he came from does not decide where he will go. He rejects who he is told he should be (as it is after using 50/50, it is either B or D), smiles, and says D.
He claims a different future then what is written, and by that becomes a hero for the people of the slums, who want to believe in a possibility for change. He also becomes a target for the police, representing authority.
This is the main scene, where he takes charge of his own destiny.

3. The last question, where we see that it is not the past that would lead the way, the past didn't tell him who the third musketeer is, nor a rejection of it, but simply luck.

This is the underlying structure of the film. (There are of course many other issues the film deals with.)

I read several reviews of the film, and it is quite astonishing to me how people, professional film reviewers who wrote about it, didn't see this. Everyone likes it, but couldn't see any of the underlying structure. Strange.
I finally saw Slumdog Millionaire, and I enjoyed it very much.  But one of the things that bothers me about the movie is that, contrary to Michel's reading, Jamal seems to understand his own story as destined (he says this more than once), and the movie ends with an explicit statement that "It is written."  I don't think this invalidates Michel's point, but I want to say that Jamal's stubbornness (his blank look and honest answers) resist the destiny written for him by the gangsters and the game-show host, but this resistance is not in the name of self-determination (taking charge of his own destiny) but in the name of destiny itself (perhaps the destiny guaranteed by the medium of cinema itself).  A different film might have worked with this tension between the film's desire for social relevance and the way that the fairy-tale ending makes it possible for a large western audience to see the movie at all.

(An aside: I'm not sure there's much concern with karma in the movie, partly because the characters are Muslim.  Destiny is mentioned at least twice, karma never.)

Some audiences have taken this movie as "poverty porn," and I had the same feeling nagging at me through the film.  Of course it's not that we can't enjoy rags-to-riches stories, even when they invoke silly notions of destiny, nor do I suggest the movie is obligated to show us the real conditions in the slums (apparently much worse than what we see), but I do think there's something disingenuous at work here.  I'm reminded of other attempts to represent poverty, like Walker Evans and James Agee's book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men -- a terrific book but also one fraught with problems about the ethics of representation.  The responses of some Indian audiences to Danny Boyle's American/English production suggests that there are similar, perhaps more glaring, problems in the movie.

The NY Times published a short online piece in which three people characterize the Indian protests about the film, and the sometimes unfortunate ways these protests intersect with Indian politics:
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