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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

slumdog-millionaire.jpgThe past few years, I’ve invariably spent much of November in a moody funk. It’s not only my birthday month (which always reminds me I’m not as young as I’d like everybody to think I am), but it’s the first month of deep Vancouver gloom. I wake up before sunrise, go to work surrounded by the looming glass-and-concrete towers of Yaletown reflecting the grey sky back at me, and go back home in darkness again. As much as I love Vancouver, my prairie-bred brain always battles the idea of a sunless winter.

This past weekend was cold wind and pouring rain. I spent Saturday watching TV Carnage and reading about Richard Nixon’s tastes in film, but by Sunday morning, I needed to get out of the house. So I went to my gym and then walked down the street to the Fifth Avenue Cinema to take in a matinee of Slumdog Millionaire. The theatre was nearly full and I ended sitting at the back, next to a 40ish English woman who struck up a conversation with me about India and Danny Boyle. She told me she didn’t know much about the movie but had been to India several times. I told her I was planning to go there with my girlfriend once I finish my degree, and she warned me, as does everybody who has been there, that it was “intense”.

I often end up talking to people when I go to movies by myself, which is kind of odd, because I’m generally more cooly polite than friendly with strangers.

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamel, an Oliver-Twisty character from the slums of Mumbai. He ends up on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, where each of the questions happens to fit like a puzzle piece into his experiences. It’s a neat and intricate bit of plotting, which could have been gimmicky or precious, but Danny Boyle manages to use it as a scaffold to hang the loose and flowing tale together. The story itself starts grimly, almost wallowing in picturesque misery, but actually shows itself to be more of a fairly tale by the time it’s done, with a noble protagonist, evil villains, and a beautiful princess to be rescued. It’s the kind of movie that makes you grateful for your own cushy life, but still leaves you smiling at the end even if it is all really kind of sentimental and preposterous. And frankly, the whole thing is gorgeous: the slums are fetid, but filled with life and motion, train stations are filled with colour, and by the end, we are in 21st century Mumbai, sprouting soaring skyscrapers.

In the end, I found the slick, crowd-pleasing aspects a bit unsatisfying, but I still enjoyed watching it despite myself. Probably endorphins from my workout before the movie. As the credits rolled over a Bollywood dance sequence, the English woman asked me if I still wanted to go to India and I told her I did, more than ever. Then I walked outside and it had finally stopped raining and a slash of mountains and blue sky was visible.