MOVIE REVIEW: Ayn Rand, Barack Obama—and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE?

If you define melodrama as an action and suspense-driven plot, with sympathetically drawn characters surviving at the raw edge of their wits, imagination, and emotions, then SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is an exquisitely rendered piece of melodrama.

But unlike cookie-cutter melodrama, in which pathos too frequently lapses into bathos, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE manages, for fully two hours, to deliver the viewer into the realm of pathos, so that by the end of the film one feels that something true (and painful and beautiful) about the human condition has been artistically captured.

The film begins with the story of three impoverished orphan children living in Mumbai (Bombay), and proceeds to tell the story of the next dozen years (or so) of their lives, and how they intertwine.

One of the striking aspects of the film is its ability to capture the raw vulnerability of human beings. This is especially true in the film’s depicting of the characters as small children, for they struggle to survive as scavengers in a world in which they are unequipped with the “tools” of other animals (claws, beaks, sharp teeth, body hair, horns).

There is a reason that evolution has provided the human animal with a large brain, social instincts, love, cunning, and the lithe ability to run and squirm, and this movie vividly depicts the role of these traits in human survival.

And because the film is ultimately melodrama, and not (entirely) tragic in orientation, one leaves the film sobered (but also hopeful) about the human condition (at least in regard to its capacity for love and heroic overcoming).

It is thus the kind of film that people who like the novels of Ayn Rand will like, for the lead character is admirable in his integrity, his rationality, and his determination NOT to surrender VALUES.

One way of thus looking at the film is as a kind of jury trial—in which the police in the film, and we in the audience, are engaged in determining a person’s true character—is he innocent or guilty? Can he defend the way he has lived his life? Is he justified? This device, I might add, functions in The Fountainhead

And I couldn’t help but think of Barack Obama while watching SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Like the lead character in this film, who strictly follows his heart and inner compass to an improbable, but extraordinary, outcome, so our 44th president seems to have a Horatio Alger “rags to riches” life story (if not quite so extreme, nevertheless equally improbable).

And so the film is a reflection of our times, and richly deserves the accolades it has received.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to MOVIE REVIEW: Ayn Rand, Barack Obama—and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE?

  1. Ergo says:

    Except for the Barack Obama part, I completely agree with your review. I love Ayn Rand’s novels, I live by her philosophy of Objectivism, and I identified so many of the things you mentioned in the movie as well. There’s a lot more to the movie, however, which I think is worth pondering over. For instance, the fact that both brothers are cast in the exact same circumstance at each stage in their lives, but end up choosing opposing paths that are consistent with their inner character, i.e., Salim chooses the consistently malevolent path to reaching the same goal (that of emerging from poverty and into wealth and success) that Jamal aims for as well but chooses the consistently honest (but difficult) path towards it.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Ergo,

    I like your point about the contrast between Salim and Jamal—I hadn’t thought about that.

    As for Obama, I must say that I see, not a perfect, but nevertheless pretty centered soul functioning in him, and I think that, like Jamal, Obama found a winding path to where he landed.

    Obama might have chosen a much easier path after college, going straight to a lucrative lawfirm in NY, but he chose instead to follow his heart’s passion for trying to make a difference in the lives of the poor in Chicago.

    It may not be a thing that many people value, but Obama did, and like Jamal, following his bliss has, in the end, not served him badly.

    —Santi

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