So I was surprised that Slumdog Millionaire won so many Academy Awards. I thought the film was good, but not a sweep-the-awards type of picture. Why not? It’s a question I’ve been pondering for a while. In the end, I felt that the romantic fantasy element of the film didn’t quite settle comfortably with the social realist element. We know, of course, that the story is a fantasy: the main character’s arc is not representative of the majority of slum-dwellers lives. And to maintain such a fantasy usually requires the elision of significant elements of ‘reality’ and ‘realism’. In Slumdog Millionaire this fundamentally works against the social realist implicit critique of the slums in India. It just can’t work as an organic unity. What’s more, I find the combination of the two to be politically unsatisfying, for if we go for the straight fantasy, then I’m not thinking ‘this is possible; this is a serious critique’, as I would if it was a straight social realist piece (think of the works of Ken Loach, for example). The combination of the two in Slumdog Millionaire confuses this, and this means that the film tends toward a ‘cinema of consolation': you leave the cinema feeling better about everything, about the slums and poverty because, well, everything turned out alright in the end. I liked the film – really I did. But I didn’t think it was that serious, in the end. And certainly not sweep-the-awards film it has become.
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