My high school English teacher once told me that the difference between a well told story and a poorly told story is that a well told story makes you willing to suspend your disbelief for the benefit of the plot; a poorly told story doesn't allow you to follow the plot because you are too busy focusing on your disbelief. Though there are many areas where this teacher and I butted heads, this statement is something on which we could both agree. I have observed this not only for novels, but for movies, as well. For instance, I whole heartedly cheered along with everyone else in the theater when the bus jumped a 100 foot break in the on-ramp in Speed. Yet I've turned off Lifetime TV movies because a teenager had bad music on his ipod.
I have some pretty firmly held beliefs that I hold onto quite tightly. These same beliefs get trampled upon during the Valentine's Day frenzy each and every year. They are: (1) Everything does NOT happen for a reason , (2) Sometimes things do NOT work out in the end, and ( 3) Love DOESN'T always find a way. By February 15, I feel like the lone realist, floating in a sea of romantics.
So you can imagine how GREAT a movie would have to be to make me suspend all three of those beliefs on February 15.
Slumdog Millionaire was such a movie.
I was vaguely familiar with the premise: a boy who lives in the slums of India grows up and goes on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in order to find a girl he knew as a child and has lost contact with. He thinks that she will surely be watching and they will be reunited as a result of his participation in this game show. Whatever. Seemed kind of farfetched to me, but I had heard it was good.
"Good" does not begin to describe this movie. It was wonderful! The movie jumps back and forth between present day (where he is sitting in the hot seat, answering questions) and his past (where in a progressing series of flashbacks, we see how he learned the answers to to the questions he is asked on Millionaire). The movie is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, and it carries you along in the story.
Last year, I watched a documentary from my Netflix queue: "Born into Brothels". In the documentary, Zana Briski, a photojournalist, befriends several children from the slums of Calcutta. These kids do not go to school. They live in filth, in garbage piles, amongst crime and drugs and prostitution. Most of their mothers are prostitutes (hence the title). Most of their fathers are gone. Those who are left are either drug addicts or drug dealers. That is the future for these children, barring a miracle of some sort.
In "Born Into Brothels", Briski teaches these children how to take pictures and gives them cameras. They document their daily lives; lives of desperation, of cruelty, of violence, and strangely, also lives of innocence and beauty. They are children. Little, sweet, beautiful, innocent children who will grow up too fast and become lost; just another batch of slumdogs scraping out a living by begging, stealing, or selling themselves.
In Slumdog Millionaire, we a child from similar circumstances (Bombay, rather than Calcutta) who grows up and finds that miracle he needs to change his future: appearing on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." I forgot it was a movie. I found myself hanging on the edge of my seat: "Oh, I hope he gets it right! I'm not sure if the answer is right. I don't know anything about Hindu gods!" I found myself becoming saddened and angry at certain characters. I found myself becoming disillusioned with mankind at allowing such horrible circumstances to exist that turn innocent children into thugs and thieves (and worse).
So... does the hero win the game show? Does the fallen character redeem himself? Do the star crossed lovers reunite at the end? I can't tell you. But I can tell you that on February 15th, this non-romantic was believing that sometimes things happen for a reason, things MIGHT work out in the end, and every once in a while, love might just find a way.