Sunday, January 25, 2009

DANNY BOYLE AND DON CHAFFER SING A SONG OF CELEBRATION: A REACTION TO SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE


recently, the wife and i went with some friends to see don and lori chaffer hoop it up at a local baptist church. this particular performance, here at the local baptist church, was a fund raising effort to support a mission that builds fresh water wells in africa. along with the fund raiser, the local texas A&M bsu hosted a two week challenge with some fancy name that asked students to drink only water for two weeks and donate the money they regularly would have spent on sodas and coffee and (Baptist Faith and Message forbid) alcohol towards these wells. the idea being that a little sacrifice increases our awareness and our appreciation of others' needs. i could not agree more. 

a sophomore bsu kid launched the evening with a gloomy, guilt filled explanation of the wells project. he piled on the accusations, seething with bitter vile for american excess and consumption. he charged us with being happy when we should mourn, with feasting when we should be fasting, with having plenty when we should be in want. and he let us know that when the children die in africa, it is because we shop at wal-mart. his speech made me feel gross, especially when i realized that i would have made the same speech at his age. that much religiously fueled zeal for godliness can lead to such fits of melodrama. 

then don and lori stand up to a room grieving the extravagance of rock-n-roll. and don says, "hey, this well project is great." and he goes on about the true gospel need to realize our personal excesses in the face of others' needs. but then he turned the boat a little, and he extolled the spiritual power of celebration. he mentioned his own trips into impoverished places and how each place exploded as much with giving and celebration as with hunger and mourning. and he said something i'll paraphrase: 

"one similarity i have always seen among people of true poverty is their ability to celebrate life. and i'm convinced, even though it may be the old hippy in me, that sometimes the greatest thing we can do here in our homes to destroy all this heaviness and hunger in the world is to lives lives of excessive celebration. and the best way to do that, the gospel of Christ way to do that, is to invite the poor into our excess and into our celebration. sacrifice alone does not complete the gospel."

my friend jon kever leaned over to me when don finished speaking and said, "that was maturity cleaning up the talk."

what i loved about don chaffer's voice that night, so solidly opposing the previous message of accusation, is what i loved about danny boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. there are plenty of films (like BABEL and BLOOD DIAMOND) which depict the depravity of international needs through a manipulative voice of despair and gloom. as a viewer, i do not walk away from these films with a hope to participate or engage in relief; instead, i walk away hating myself for being male and white, overly aware of my gratuitous love for expensive beer and for unnecessary varieties of block cheese. and in the wake of such manipulation i realize that guilt is not a propellent: it's an anaesthetic.

danny boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, although an intensely emotional rollercoaster, stands in direct opposition to the manipulative voice of despair. all at once, boyle's film is tragic and horrific, while also triumphant and beautiful. boyle pulls no punches showing his viewers the squalor and filth of india's slums, where children splash about in sewers and run barefoot over decaying heaps of garbage. boyle does not hide the reality of religious intolerance in india, or the fact that children are bought and sold into markets that capitalize on the perversion of their innocence. and boyle does not shy away from the greed that is born in poverty, or the contradiction between india's true landscape and the western vantage point of tourism. however, boyle shows all of this while simultaneously blinding his viewers with color and laughter. in the squalor, we still see the children rejoicing. in the black markets, we see the children fight back against their oppressors. in the face of greed, we see moments of true redemption. as a viewer, i walked away from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE both exhausted and exhilarated, having received a small glimpse of a poverty that grieves me and of a people that astound me with their celebration. the clashing of the two intrigue me, and i feel hungry to know more.

i easily give SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE 5 latrine dives out of 5. this is one film i will not easily forget.

14 comments:

John Barber said...

Yes! The wife and I saw it last night. I'll put up a review of my own, ASAP, but I'm sure I won't give it the justice you have...

graeadl - A Jewish Passover item, consisting of a paper maiche donkey stuffed with lentils that small children beat with loaves of unleavened bread until bursting.

Pepe Guzman said...

well said. loved the movie also. there were holes. where jamal learned the queen's english, how to operate a computer, how the hell he got himself on the game show (never explained) or even the fact that millionaire is not taped "live" thus spoiling the dramatic telephone conversation at the end -- were all little holes in a TITANIC film. a few little holes aren't enough to bump the grade from 5 latrines to four. no way. it was beautiful and sad and inspirational when it could have been dripping with despair. good post hamster.

the hamster said...

pepe - just wanted to mention, since i failed to say so in yesterday's roadtrip conversation concerning MIA's fashion sense, it tickles me to no end that MIA wears a metallica shirt in that "paper planes" video. ya. she's got the RIDE THE LIGHTNING cover right there on the front of her. that's nice.

Esue said...

Pepe, I think Jamal's entry onto the show was implied that he phoned in from work, much like the others who were calling in to get on.

I saw this film Friday night, and it was indeed, phenomenal. I was struck by how identical the slums in India look to the slums in Kibera. Struck by how the kids ingenuity to hustle allows them to survive. By how a child diving to a massive pool of crap can be so damn funny. The love story was incredible and the fact that even a situation such as Jamal's can be redeemed, not even by the $ but by the lifelong pursuit of Latika is beautiful on so many levels.

the hamster said...

e sue - i love when you show up uncoerced. thanks.

yea, that girl ruined that boy even before they hit puberty. now that's intense.

Pepe Guzman said...

yes, it seems much was implied, esue. the issue of the love story trumping the money story is interesting. didn't you....just for a minute....want jamal to say "f*ck the money, you millionaire dandy, i've got my lady on the phone and i'm coming to get you!"

i think it would have been better had his "prize" been the girl instead of the girl + the money. it sort of re-emphasized the importance of money in a story about life/love/friendship despite poverty. it sent the wrong signal to have him win the jackpot at the end.

maybe that's just me. anybody else smellin' what i'm cookin'?

Bethany said...

fantastic review hamster.

I've been mulling over this little flick all day. As I previously mentioned (although not in print), I felt emotionally drained after the film. And in spite of the main character's perseverance and sincerity, it was hard to stomach all he had to endure in the process.
It's hard to successfully pull off a film that can make you laugh to the point of tears and still in the following moment cause you to stop breathing, but this Mr. Boyle pulls it off. I definitely will recommend it to anyone, but with fair warning -- this film demands emotion.

myleswerntz said...

well, damn. now i have to post my own review.

the hamster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Barber said...

Here's my take on girl + money. I think Jamal believed exactly the same thing. The girl was the prize. That's why he did what he did on that last question. He said "screw it", I'm comin' out ahead anyway.

deconiti: An Italian art motif in which the artist creates through deconstruction. This is best typified in the classic piece by Linguini "Disassembled Car Parts on My Driveway"

Jennie said...

Cade told me recently about something I had said to him during our college years and I was so surprised. I really said that? So, unfortunately, I have to agree with you that I might have sounded a lot like that young kid ten years ago. Thank God for maturity and the freedom to develop my own set of beliefs.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I certainly want to now that I've read your review!

the hamster said...

jennie - need i remind you that i spoke on the platform at praise and worship for three semesters solid? oh, believe you me, i lay in bed quaking the Judgement sometimes. thank God for the forgiveness.

rhyanch - the phonetic pronunciation of "ranch" in many southern dialects

myleswerntz said...

one more thing: I love when Don does this. I hope that he never writes a book, because editors would kill his voice. I'll settle for just finding them live whenever I can.

"suffering alone does not complete the gospel."

bemallo: the advice of the hippie to the CEO, on how to enjoy Saturdays aside from working in the yard.

the hamster said...

myles - remember, i did say that i paraphrased don. so, you know, that little quote you pulled out there was really mine. sure, i was referencing don, but those were my words. i mean, just remember that when you write your book.

disbyh - (vb) (silent "h") the refusal to follow traveling directions in an effort to save time, save gas, or save face. usually results in a loss of all three.