john April 25th, 2010
For years–before I had Netflix, before Netflix even existed–I looked all over town for a film that came highly recommended called The Gospel According to Matthew. I finally found it one day at Video Rodeo and checked it out. It was amazing–I was enthralled with this film like I’d been with few others. About halfway through, Jesus came walking over the water onto land, opened his mouth to say something to Matthew, and the DVD froze.
I tried cleaning the disk, tried fast forwarding past the scratched part, tried to jump past it with chapter selection, tried to watch it on a different DVD player. Nothing would make the DVD play past the halfway point.
Back at the store they said they’d probably never get a replacement for it–the film was available only as part of a very expensive Pasolini boxed set. They offered me a free rental but that wasn’t what I wanted–I wanted to see the rest of the film.
Years later, the film has been released on its own and the library has a copy. I checked it out some time back, brought it home, and left it on the desk, unwatched, until I had to return it. The film was fixed in my mind as perfect film, and I was worried I’d revisit it and find that it wasn’t.
Today I was watching Slumdog Millionaire, mostly because it’s one of the very few films on the IMDb top 250 that I haven’t yet seen. Early on I decided it was kind of predictable how all of Jamal’s trivia knowledge stemmed from various unpleasant situations in his past, and my mind began to drift off–thinking of Danny Boyle’s films, thinking of British colonialism and liberal guilt, thinking of how the film was described as a crowd pleaser but I thought it was kind of shallow. Thinking, actually, that Jamal wouldn’t have escaped his childhood without carrying some serious baggage, and that his character would most likely be inclined towards detached hookups or clingy abusive relationships.
About halfway through the film, Jamal was hanging out with Latika, Salim had just left, and the DVD froze. When the DVD unfroze, Salim was holding a group of men at gunpoint. The DVD played another three minutes or so and froze again.
Nothing I try will make this DVD play all the way through.
I’m not sure if I’ll watch the rest of it, but in this case it’s not because I think it’s a perfect film. Rather, it’s hitting me as a moderately entertaining watch which isn’t offering me anything new. I feel certain that Jamal will prove himself innocent to the policeman’s satisfaction, that he will walk away with his millions, that he will find Latika, and that they will be reunited happily ever after. I feel certain, too, that Jamal and Latika won’t be immediately robbed–by Salim or anyone else–and won’t have to deal with mountains of taxes, or mountains of bribes to various corrupt officials, that they’ll never be implicated in Amman’s death though Salim probably will, and will suffer it silently, and that the film’s ending will be superficially satisfying.
And I feel certain, finally, that millions of rupees are a poor compensation for a childhood of being raised in the slums, having witnessed a parent’s murder, having been tricked into childhood serfdom and barely escaping being deliberately blinded, having witnessed a second murder (even if it was of a reprehensible character), and having been tortured during questioning for having done nothing wrong.
I wonder if a better film might have been made with that same character, with that same background, with a resolution of not becoming rich but instead of coming to peace with the past and laying it to rest.