The reels of misfortune

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The UVU Cinema Club will be showing Slumdog Millionaire this Thursday as part of its International Film series. In case you missed the hullabaloo, it won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, and received mostly glowing reviews from almost everyone who saw it.

Well — almost everyone. When I walked out of the theater with friends, it became quickly apparent I was the only person who didn’t like the film.
What bothered me about Slumdog Millionaire was two-fold: first, the film seemed to have more plot holes than a spaghetti strainer. Second, and more importantly, Slumdog Millionaire seems only concerned with presenting unrealistic solutions to India’s poverty situation by glamorizing it into a very domesticated portrayal of India which appeals to mostly Western sensibilities, like the rags-to-riches narrative with a young male hero, the hip and upbeat music, the quick cuts and MTV-style cinematography during some scenes, colorful minor characters who provide either shock value or comic relief, and black-and-white morality where good always triumphs over evil and suffering and misery are always rewarded with celebrity, fame and money — and the girl.

The film is voyeuristic and doesn’t interrogate the larger social issues it’s using to simply further plot. At the expense of becoming entertainment, poverty, child slavery and violence become objects of art and aesthetic sadism. Scenes like the opening sequence seem placed just to shock and others throughout the film confuse what the film’s subject is: is it the grimness of India’s problems or how good they look on camera?

It might seem like asking a film to “intellectualize” issues of poverty, racism, and violence, but when a film doesn’t fully develop these issues in the plot, they tend to pass as merely devices to further the hero. Also the audience may passively enjoy and endorse these things. A simplistic depiction of these issues makes them much more digestible, especially when they wear bright colors, play loud music, and receive an Academy Award. Should a film be both depraved AND entertaining, or does the rating system dispense with any need to watch it critically?

Now, none of this is intended to dissuade anyone from attending the screening. To be sure, it’s a well-made film and deserves most of the accolades it received. However, you should go into the screening with a perspective that can add to a discussion of the film and ask yourself one of the big questions coming up in today’s cinema: are social concerns and miseries ever accurately portrayed on screen, or does one simply say, “It’s just a movie” and thereby shrug off those issues?