Occasionally a film comes along that I’m actually nervous about seeing. It’s because I don’t want to be let down. Director Danny Boyle’s films are like this. I really enjoyed his debut – the blackly comic thriller/morality play on the subject of greed (Shallow Grave – 1995). But it was his second film that, like for so many of my age and stage, changed everything. Seeing Trainspotting for the first time is one of those experiences I can never forget – not sure whether I liked it or hated it, but sure that what I expected from the cinema had been changed for ever. The style backed up by substance, the visual tricks, the music, the script, the subject matter, the performances…all blending into a whole that defied you not to be blown away by the very force of its presence. I was stunned – and going back a second and a third time, I decided that I loved it and that anyone who thought it was peddling some sort of message portraying drug-addiction as somehow a good thing was clearly brainless. It’s now one of my all-time favourites – with each re-viewing I see new depth and new power.
Since that time, I’ve awaited Danny Boyle’s films with trepidation; I want that feeling again, but I don’t want to be disappointed. Some have got close: 28 Days Later – but for me that’s just too bleak to really love; Sunshine – promised a lot, but never quite added up to enough. Some really disappointed – The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary (though not without merit). Some I have inexplicably not been able to see – Millions, though I understand it’s good.
So I approach his latest, Slumdog Millionaire, with real fear. So great has been the advance buzz that, surely, I can’t be anything other than disappointed? At the same time…..it just sounds great. What to do? It’s been a long time since excitement and nerves have combined this way for me.
Frankly, it’s stunning. I’m going to be in danger of gushing here, but it’s magnificent. Funny, touching, thrilling, exciting, romantic, shocking, alarming….it has, literally, everything, without overwhelming you. I find it hard to imagine a person who won’t enjoy this.
It should be cheesy – the story of a boy from the Indian slums who gets on to that country’s version of TV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a way of getting the attention of his now lost childhood sweetheart. It should be woefully implausible as the story takes us through his interrogation regarding the charge of cheating to show how each question he answers through a life experience told in flashback.
It should fail – but it works, perfectly. Why? Simply, it’s a contemporary urban fairy tale, told with such style and respect for an audience which wants to be entertained, that in the end you can’t help but be swept along. Yes, it’s a very tough watch at times – the violence and depravation of slum-life are not skimped on. This is a fairy tale that smells unmistakably of the street. It leads, though, where you want it to lead. In that fact, though, is the film’s real miracle – whilst centering on a TV show with a huge prize as part of a rags-to-riches tale, it actually subverts the consumerist dream that drives the show and so many stories like this one. Money brings nothing but suffering to those who seek it – to Jamal, the young man at the heart of it all, it’s clear that he’s never in it for the money. All he wants is his soul-mate.
Really, it’s magnificent – right down to the seeds sown in the lives of the local children used to act in the film. The director has provided them all with transport to school until the age of 16, and trust funds to be released to them at age if they stay in school.
In every way, I love this film – both gloriously of it’s time in its setting, style and subject matter and yet challenging and subverting the age’s obsession with money and consumption.
I need not have feared.