A sense of life

February 22, 2009

Last night we went to see the film Slumdog Millionaire. My wife was a little taken aback by the depiction of poverty and abuse in India. I’m not sure why or what she expected India to be like. It reminded her of Cairo and I thought that was a pretty fair comparison. They’re both large (> 10 million people) and Cairo has the same striking contrast of hard poverty against cosmopolitan affluence that Mumbai showed in the film.

I enjoyed the film quite a bit and I’d recommend it to anyone with a couple of hours to spend. Here’s a shot of the hero, Jamal Malik, looking over the new buildings that have replaced the slum in Mumbai where he grew up.

Slumdog Millionaire

Jamal Malik, the Slumdog Millionaire

I liked this film because of Jamal’s unflagging determination to find his girl, Latika. They met as children, when he took in her in out of the rain. They were separated after a few years. But he regarded her as his destiny and he never stopped trying to find her again – and to be with her after he did find her – despite all the misadventures of his young life (which included a couple of direct rebuffs from her).

Since he grew up an orphan in India, alone with his brother, he and his brother had to ply a number of low-paying trades and work several scams just to survive. The story of their doings is nicely revealed in flashbacks as the background to Jamal’s success on the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

The film’s plotting and production values were both outstanding, as was the acting. It deserved the awards it received, I think.

Today I realized that what this movie showed so well was the positive sense of life that Ayn Rand described in her essays and novels. People are not at the mercy of the universe, or their god(s), or their society, or their enemies. We may not always win but we can always choose to try.

Were Ms Rand still alive, I’d bet that she’d like the movie too – and for that particular reason. It had the feel of Hugo’s Les Misérables, a story she admired.

In a word, I found the movie uplifting.

Slumdog Millionaire also reminded me of a quote from Harlan Ellison that I ran across just last week.

My philosophy of life is that the meek shall inherit nothing but debasement, frustration and ignoble deaths; that there is security in personal strength; that you can fight City Hall and win; that any action is better than no action, even if it’s the wrong action; that you never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you’re willing to risk everything, dare anything, put yourself dead on the line every time; and that once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.

I’d never have guessed that Mr. Ellison would write something like that; I’m glad I found it.

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