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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

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If only the woman I loved looked at me like this. | Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Whereas a minor film like Twilight (and I liked me some Twilight!) employs adolescents to tell a story about adolescent love, a truly powerful film like Slumdog Millionaire succeeds magnificently at the much trickier challenge of using adolescents--and even children--to convey the realmless and redemptive power of unconditional love. Furthermore, it shares with the audience one of the great luxuries of cinema; it draws you into a strange, new world that you never even imagined existed. It is nothing less than a rich marvel.

The film opens with a young Indian man named Jamal sitting in a police station accused of cheating at--of all things--Who Wants to be a Millionaire. From such a banal start, though, an amazing story begins. The police want to know how a common, uneducated vagrant (a "slumdog" in the parlance of the cops) could possibly know the answers to the esoteric questions that were posed to him on the game show. His answer is elegant and simple: the savage and brutal events of his life gave him every specific piece of knowledge he needed.

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Never has a shit-covered child been so funny! | Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

As he haltingly speaks, we see those events of his life revealed. How did he know what the Indian god Rama holds in her right hand? Because he saw a girl dressed as her on the day when he--still a little boy--saw his mother murdered. How did he know what American statesman appears on the $100 dollar bill? Because he conned two American tourists out of the money, then used it to find the whereabouts of his kidnapped childhood girlfriend. And so it goes as Jamal continues to answer question after question.

Is Slumdog Millionaire a story of coincidence? Partly. But mostly it's a story of destiny. When Jamal and his brother Salim were young orphans in Mumbai, they met a fellow orphan girl named Latika and that chance meeting eventually informed every event of Jamal's life. In his mind, he and Latika were destined to be together and so every question asked of him on Millionaire is merely a step on the journey of being united with her. It's difficult to describe such a thing without sounding sappy, but in the film it's magical.

Much of the film's fragile beauty relies on the absolutely perfect casting of the film and the extraordinary scenic orchestration of director Danny Boyle. India has never felt so vibrant and real in an English-language film despite the awful and graphic depictions of the Mumbai slums. As an example, one of the hardest laughs I've had in a film all year is when a young Jamal runs through a crowd covered in the shit of hundreds of strangers. It sounds horrible but--trust me--you will understand when you see it. And you will laugh, too.

Ultimately, that may be the great triumph of the film. It reveals so much despair and misery and loneliness in the lives of these marginal characters, but in the end Slumdog Millionaire is a story that will fill up your heart like a sail. By the time that the adult Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (the extraordinary beautiful Freida Pinto) finally share a kiss, you will most likely be checking a tear from your eye. Not because their lives are so terrible, but because their struggle and their love is so beautiful. This is a film not to be missed.

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