by Jeff Meyerhoff
(Swans - January 26, 2009) The beloved new movie "Slumdog Millionaire," directed by Danny Boyle, exploits the poverty of India's orphans to tell a fanciful love story. Technically it's impressive, but morally it's a horror. The movie uses the devastatingly horrible life of Indian street orphans to tell what is essentially an escapist love adventure and preposterous rags-to-riches story, complete with a hero who rescues a fair maiden from a castle where she's being held by an evil mobster/monster. The audience forgets the horrors he and the other orphaned children endure because they're all redeemed by our hero becoming rich and getting the girl of his dreams.
The exploited experiences linger as the movie induces us to forget about them and move on with the story. There's the hero's brother who's been put in charge of a crew of abandoned orphan-beggars. He threatens a little girl that he'll drop a screaming baby on the ground if the girl doesn't hold the baby and keep her screaming to get more handouts on the street. At first, the girl refuses and the audience gets to experience the nightmarish prospect of this parentless, crying baby being dropped on the ground, but then, reluctantly, she agrees to hold the baby. The scene ends and the audience is guided back to the flowering love story.
In another scene, a little boy is intentionally blinded by the mobster who pimps the pack of orphaned beggar children. Years later, we encounter the blind boy again, older, but fated to stand in the subway singing for handouts, his useless eyes crossing every which way. He cheerily tells our hero a fact that comes in handy later in the movie and so, having served his purpose, can be forgotten too.
The audience is traumatized with these and other horrors, any one of which should have been the subject of a movie but here usefully serve as the horrible contrast that makes the hero's fanciful victory satisfying.
We'll allow ourselves to be exposed to Conradian horrors such as these, as long as we feel entertained and we get full redemption in the end. It's much like the TV show "Animal Rescue 911" on Animal Planet Channel. Abused animals are found and then saved. The audience is terrorized and then relieved. What's hidden is the reality of all the suffering animals that don't get saved and die horrible deaths we couldn't bear to imagine and would never agree to watch. "Slumdog Millionaire" gives us a glimpse of "the horror" to further its story and then induces us to forget.
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