In my distraction last year, Slumdog Millionaire was one of the films I unfortunately let fall to the side, which is odd because I am quite the fan of Danny Boyle's work. But there seemed, to me at least, to be something about the film - actually, now that I think about it, probably something about its campaign and publicity, which tried to sell it as a "feel-good movie" - that turned me off, even when the Oscar glitter descended around it. It puzzled me that the man who had very nearly reinvented the zombie genre would make this film. It seemed a bit... I don't know, a bit like James Cameron making Titanic, or something, and that left me twisting in cinematic ambivalence. And in a sense, I was right. Slumdog marks a bit of a thematic shift in Boyle's work - or, if not a shift, then at least a maturation into new territory. Gone is the satiric acid of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting; gone are the thundering apocalyptics of 28 Days Later and Sunshine. In their place rushes and grins a new bounding sense of sincerity, life, and struggle. Slumdog Millionaire startled me by just how alive it felt - like it was bursting and surging and breaking loose across the screen. And almost immediately, as the film started, I found myself victim to it - I let myself fall into Boyle's hands, and for the next two hours he worked upon me, tortured me, and then sent me soaring into the air. Slumdog Millionaire is pure cinematic exhileration.
Jamal (Dev Patel) is a young man from the slums of Mumbai who finds himself on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire... and he's winning. But the life that has led him to this moment has been one of constant struggle, pain, and heartache. He has, for so long, been trying to find and rescue the girl that he loves, Latika (the luminous Freida Pinto - seriously, this girl destroyed me. Just look at her!), and every time he finds her some horrible circumstance will pull them unfairly and violently apart. Now, one question away from winning it all, his hopes for finding her seem balanced on a knife-blade. It sounds like a strange set-up, I know, which is partly why, fool that I was, I let this movie escape me for so long. But though the premise sounds slightly ridiculous, there is so much packed into here - tragic vignettes from Jamal's life, the moments of hope and terror that have constantly provoked him; a stunning picture of squalor and poverty in which life somehow still flourishes; moments of bleak hopelessness and fierce determination. The gameshow narrative - important, sure - isn't really the story of Slumdog Millioniare; it's just the conceit that ties everything together and provides the framework on which Boyle will hang the stories from Jamal's life.
The soundtrack grooves in some Western/Eastern tehno-pop hybrid, and it works. The gorgeous and lush cinematography, always a feature in Boyle's films, glitters and stuns. The edits slash and stitch so rapidly sometimes and with such feverish vitality they spin your head and leave your breathless. It all works, story and execution.
In a sense, Slumdog is pure indulgence. As I browse around and skim the reviews, forums, and comments for the film, I'm bewildered (and enraged) at some of the things I'm finding. There are people who don't like this film! There are people who think it's cheesy, simple, or - most puzzling to me - boring. But it's the film's simplicity and sincerity, its uninhibited embrace of all things pure and immediate, that gives it so much power. Yes, the ending is an uninhibited display of emotion that - I suppose, maybe... - you could look at as being... uh, I guess discordant, as not fulfilling the gritty and wrenching realities that have come before it. But I would say that the film, and its ending, are entirely cohesive, and that the end, which seems not just to take a dip in but actually to dive headfirst into fairy tale sensibilities, reveals the movie's true intentions. All the grit, all the dirt, all the struggle that has kept Jamal from Latika... it's all groundwork for the film's final, nearly transcendent conclusion. It is the "feel-good movie of the year." It's just a feel-good movie that destroys you before it recreates you. It will drag you through the mud and shit (literally, at one point) and then it will lift you up.
And now I'm just gushing and it's getting embarrassing. I'm actually listening to the film's soundtrack as I'm writing this and it's... infecting me. I absolutely adored this film. Not in the same way I adore something like Synecdoche, New York or Let the Right One In... but in that pure way. It's the kind of movie you watch not to be challenged but the kind you watch to see life and hope affirmed. And it's rare to find a film like that these day and even rarer to find one that does it so well and with as much vitality and sincerity as this one. I love Slumdog Millionaire... and you should, too.