Important Lessons From Slumdog Millionaire
I had the privilege of seeing Slumdog Millionaire several weeks ago. And I do mean privilege. The movie was not on my list to see; the title turned me off. I imagined it had something to do with corruption and greed and I was not interested in being exposed to such things in the name of entertainment.
Well, the movie did have to do with corruption and greed. And deceit and betrayal. And near-unimaginable poverty and cruelty. It was tough to watch at times.
But I was deeply moved by the triumph of the story and the resilience of the main character, who endured gut-wrenching violence, family betrayal, and unjust torture. He knew what he wanted and refused to let go. Despite mind-numbing danger and heart-stopping terror, he somehow learned from harrowing experiences. He did not succumb to bitterness, though surely he felt it. He refused to allow the ignorance and fear of others to deter or define him. Somehow the child survived and ultimately the young man thrived.
There are many important ideas and messages beyond the rags-to-riches and boy-gets-girl outcome of this fine film. Here are a few.
People who control circumstances through cruelty and fear are often profoundly afraid themselves. This makes them dangerous. When they do not understand or cannot control someone or something, they perceive threat and seek to destroy. If you understand this, you can anticipate cruelty and protect yourself. If, however, you cannot look at—and thus refuse to acknowledge—such baseness, you make yourself vulnerable to it.
People who live in abject poverty can still express joy, especially when they do not know another way to live. As I watched the movie, I was reminded of the time my daughter and I visited the Mayan Ruins in Chichen Itza, Mexico. We took a bus with dozens of other tourists through very poor villages in which there was no running water or electricity. Homes were open shelters constructed of branches and fabric. Adults often sat in front of their homes singing or working together. Children played in joyful innocence. One woman on the bus asked, “How do they play their CDs?”
The bus driver looked at her in his rear view mirror and said with great patience, “Ma’am, they don’t know what a CD is. What they do not have, they do not miss. They do not know they should be unhappy.”
We have stupendous wealth in this country. With little to threaten us, we might be expected to have great gratitude and confidence. Generosity might be expected, too, as a natural by-product of good fortune. Sadly, these qualities seem rare today. Instead, it appears that from great privilege come meager spirits. I’m sorry for us.
Slumdog Millionaire celebrates the triumph of belief, determination, endurance and love over poverty, treachery, deceit and betrayal. Out of squalor comes nobility.
I’m glad the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences rewarded this film so richly. The film is a great gift to our troubled time.