05 January 2009

screening: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button/Slumdog Millionaire

We went and saw Benjamin Button on Christmas Day in Indy and Slumdog Millionaire on New Year's Day back in Chapel Hill.

Both of these movies were striking in their own distinct ways. First, Benjamin Button...

While this nearly 3 hour movie dragged for some (really everyone but me; I will not apologize for being a sucker for a nice character-driven film), the premise was fresh and the characters were interesting. I'll admit it smacked a little of Forrest Gump-meets-Simon Birch-with-a-tinge-of Titanic. Aside from those obvious associations, I enjoyed the way it commented on the selfless love Brad Pitt's character was required to give due to his oddity. Button's "birth defect" made him look beyond age and exterior and not only allowed a seeming octogenarian to fall in love with a pre-teen (seen in a poignant but somewhat creepy flashlight fort meeting while the rest of the house slept), but to maintain that unassuming and sacrificial love even when the tables were turned. The fact that the main story took place in an old folks home in New Orleans had several resonances. The contrast (and sometimes irrelevance) of age along with the hurting, destructed, and grotesquely beautiful cityscape during its modern flooding set the tone for the whole film. On a side note, Brad Pitt firmly places himself in a James Dean/Paul Newman type, iconic role for our generation with this one. I can't really think of anyone else that is that guy who is charming and attractive enough for the women to crush, while being tough, cool, and witty enough for guys (like myself) to admire or at least archetype him as the American man.

Now Slumdog Millionaire...

In indie (& Indian) movie featuring unknown (to us) Bollywood actors about love and loss and 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' doesn't exactly seem like a great way to spend an afternoon or 7 bucks. On the contrary, Danny Boyle masterfully weaves a story, with great technique (cinematography was brilliant), deep characters that you actually care about, and a tight, interesting storyline.

One striking element to this movie was how it was able to show the dichotomy of modern India without being overly polemic or forceful. There was an over-arching theme of old vs. new- poverty vs. wealth- virtuous brother vs. ambitious brother. In a time in which the sub-continent with some of the most dense population tries to vie for global influence- we see this zeitgeist not in newsprint or soundbite but in the unfailing love of a slumdog 'chai wallah' and the wisdom and experience gained from his seemingly 'mis-fortunate' past. The destiny of Jamal is certainly a microcosm for the fate of India. Perhaps, "It is written."

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