We walked in a minute late; our protagonist and potential "Millionaire" was already strung up, being tortured. My pulse, it quickened.
Attached to our "Slumdog"'s toes were some kind of cables, which were being used to zap the truth out of him.
"HOW did you know the answers?!!!" thunders the Indian policeman in charge of finding out how our hero hit the 10-million (rupees) mark on the country's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
"I just knew them," he sputters, his eyeballs rolling round loosely in their sockets.
And so begins "Slumdog Millionaire." It was the second film in last Thursday's Double Feature Night (the first was "Milk," which will be dealt with at another time -- it was very good, but this film was fantastic).
Walking into the movie with my lovely date, we both had similar expectations. We'd heard some of the hype, knew it was supposed to be "great," but were both pretty unclear what we were in for.
"I was imagining a lot of bright colors, flashes, eclecticism," we later mused, quite ignorantly. Not the intricate, smart, layered, brilliant little film that unfolded.
After the opening torture scene, we're taken back to Jamal (a.k.a. "Slumdog," or Dev Patel) sitting on the set of "Millionaire." The snaky host lets out his first question; then we enter Jamal's head.
We live through a memory of his childhood in a civil-war torn Mumbai. We follow him and his brother playing innocently, if mischievously, in their slum of a neighborhood, when suddenly a Hindu mob descends upon the slums, beating anyone in sight in an extremely violent, visceral early scene.
They're orphaned. But before they begin the remarkable adventure of raising themselves, we cut to his memory of a child standing in front of them (after their mother is slain) holding the very object being questioned about on Millionaire. Though he's never received anything more than a street-smarts education, you quickly realize that he's able to answer the most obscure questions because they all relate to some significant moment in his twisted Tom-Sawyer life.
So, that's the format for each of the questions. We jump from present-time in the police station, as the inspector and his lackey take turns beating on him from time-to-time, back to him on the show's set, and back to his childhood memories responsible for his Millionaire-making responses. We watch them escape child slavery (after seeing a horribly painful scene involving boiling water and a poor child's eyes); we see them criss-crossing the whole of India, riding atop moving trains; we watch Salim, his brother, evolve into the criminal we always knew he'd become; and of course, there's a love story. (For feelings on Love, however, see prior post.)
It's beautiful, brilliantly interwoven -- quite seamless.
At one point, the police inspector calls Jamal's story "bizarrely plausible," and I suppose that's one of the most impressive parts of the whole film. Despite its twists and turns and coincidences and self-made constructs, it doesn't feel contrived.
Oh, and his love interest, Latika (Freida Pinto), is one of the most beautiful actresses I can think of. It was hard to pay attention to what was going on around them when she was on screen. Lady crush! (pictured above)
In other news, I ran into the elder Bloomberg movie critic, who said he has a gaggle of movies for me to review in January. Why, gods, can you not make it easy for me to just up and leave for L.A.?!?!?!!? Sigh.
In other, other news, I finally gave into the realization that it's going to be a White Christmas; and, there is no snow in Houston (home). Sorry, Mama G. :'(