English 495 ESM
May 12, 2013
The Solution to all Global Political Problems:
Engaging the Film Slumdog Millionaire
The above cited photograph is found in multiple variations across the internet; its popularity is signified by a society in which instability, global “wage repression” and an excessive “concentration of wealth in the upper classes,” are possibly the only certainties (Harvey).
The art produced in our contemporary society, in all different forms, are seared with these undertones of instability and at times offer a potential solution, or at the minimum some form of hope for a better future. The film Slumdog Millionaire is one of the works produced by society in a volatile time; the work highlights the struggle to find love against a backdrop of conflicts with religion, crime, security, scarcity and other such themes. Although the work is brilliant, and a commendable piece, and while contrasting the intelligence of life experiences against indoctrinized education, Slumdog Millionaire contradicts the very undertone of values it questions and perpetuates the beliefs of those who rely on fortune and chance, thereby placating the masses and ensuring the status quo.
Slumdog Millionaire follows the story line of Jamal, Salim and Latika as they grow up, orphaned, facing hardships which are specific to certain regions of India and yet both global and universal as they represent common conflicts of man against society. Jamal is introduced as a man who has become a millionaire (rupees); but has been kidnapped and tortured by the local police because they are certain of his guilt, as one of the interrogators questioned prior to electrocuting him into unconsciousness “just tell me how you cheated” (Boyle). Herein the main theme of resistance is highlighted, that of organized education against the validity of life experiences. One of Jamal’s interrogators argues with the other, “Professors, doctors, lawyers never get beyond…million (rupees) what the hell can a Slumdog know?” (Boyle). Again, Jamal’s intelligence and ability are questioned because he was born and raised in abject poverty found in the “slums” of the city, and is therefore incapable of higher intelligence, knowledge and reason. The film suggests through various flashbacks of life experiences can have as much value as “proper” education and thus a solution to these conflicts can be found.
The additional subplots and conflicts found in the film serve to highlight and further establish the importance of the primary conflict. One scene emphasizes conflicts of religion and the scarcity of urban space. Jamal and Salim become orphans during a scene in which their part of the slum is overrun by religious fanatics “they’re Muslims, get them!” (Boyle). Men, women, and children are beaten while the slum is destroyed and set ablaze. Religious freedom, safety, the sanctity and security of the home (or personal space) are all threatened.
In later scenes, Latika is separated from Jamal and Salim when they are picked up and forced to become part of a crime ring which forces children to beg on the street, at times the criminals purposefully mutilate children in order to obtain more money. Latika left behind, is trained to become a kind of Indi-Geisha, ultimately planned for prostitution. Although each of these conflicts are problems culturally specific to areas of India, they are also very much universal problems and concerns found in any country, developed or not. Each conflict, in some form are problems stemming or compounded by the lack of money. Yet the film explicitly suggests that more money (as well as capitalist development as propounded by Salim) is the solution to these very problems, “look down there (referring to new urban and commercial development) that used to be our slum…[Mumbai a new economic center] and I am in the center of the center” (Boyle).
It is within the forum of the game show where life experience and proper education are set against one another. Jamal personifies and embodies life experiences while the host represents proper education. Jamal establishes his intellectual authority and right to be a competitor in the game due to his knowledge. The game serves as a metaphor, the forum itself is relevant to the game of life and the success of those able to participate in institutionalized education; those not able to do so thus acquire knowledge through life experiences. Despite this debate in the game show forum, each side of acquired knowledge is respected, possibly even equally respected as Jamal succeeds question by question.
Although Slumdog Millionaire highlights the importance of life experience and equates if not negates that all emphasis should rest on organized or indoctrinized education, the film itself, unfortunately, contradicts and undermines its own purpose, essentially offering a social and political “bait and switch.” While establishing a forum of debate between education and life experience and recognizing that each is the foundation of knowledge and reason, necessary to everyday life and survival, the film then ignores the forum and explicitly offers only one solution for all of these social problems: winning a game of chance. Arguably, Jameson’s perspective of Thomas More’s Utopia, can easily be attributed to Slumdog Millionaire since both “[fail] to identify and fundamental agency for radical change” (41). According to the film, only by winning a game and amassing money, can humanity find true love, safety, security, a home and a future. After this “bait and switch” of social issues, despite the main points and plot of the film, the work concludes with Jamal, winning the game show and thus he is able to afford the luxury of financial security and is able to rescue his love from a life of fear, oppression and prostitution, “emancipation has a price” (Martin).
In the finale, the film contradicts itself entirely. While creating the essential conflict of institutionalized education against life experiences, the ending does not promote either of these intelligences nor does it offer some kind of solution to the very real universal problems explicitly found in the film and the struggle of everyday conflicts of man against society. Although the work clearly promotes financial security as a remedy to each social problem, the work’s plausible solution is that of relying on chance to save the characters from the reality of these difficulties. Therefore it promotes a blind faith, there is no hope in attempting to prepare for hardships or attempting to navigate “finance [as a] novel means of domination” (Martin). Slumdog Millionaire perpetuates religious and capitalist ideologies that it first attempts to undermine, but finally embraces, as Jameson observes “not the slightest prospect of reform, let alone revolution in real life” (44). Our only choice is to play the lottery in the hopes of cashing in and creating our own utopia.
Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. Dev Patel, Saurabh Shukla, Anil Kapoor.
Celador Films, 2008. DVD
Jameson, Frederic. “The Politics of Utopia.” New Left Review. 2004. Web.
Martin, Randy. “Where Did the Future Go?” Logosonline. Logos 5.1, 2006. Web.