13 May 2013
Globalization and Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle’s 2008 Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire became an instant hit among critics for its unique structure and refreshingly original story. However, this film is more than just an enjoyable film to watch in one’s spare time. This film starts to engage and bring to light the issues of imperialism and globalization in third world countries. It shows the negative effects of the Western world in a way that most would overlook. The main character, Jamal, is accused of lying on a game show based off of the American show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”—another symbol of the Western culture and the Western world. Through Jamal’s flashbacks from his childhood to the present, the audience gets a glimpse of how the Western culture has influenced their world in a not so positive way. The audience learns through these flashbacks how Jamal gained his knowledge in an unorthodox and non-educational way. By incorporating and meshing symbols of the Western world, director Danny Boyle starts to engage in a meaningful conversation about the effects of imperialism and globalization, however, Boyle does come up short by coping out to a happy Americanized ending instead of truly forcing the conversation to continue.
The movie starts out with Jamal and his brother Salim running through their slum. Right from the start the audience knows that this movie is going to critique the third world country these kids are living in. The images of the slum from within are overwhelming, but it doesn’t just stop there. When the shot pans out and the audience gets to see just how far the slum expands, the audience can already see the remaining effects of globalism and imperialism. Randy Martin’s article, “Where Did the Future Go?” echoes the feeling of loss and surprise that the audience of a first world country feels. Martin describes the struggle for people to keep up with the present as the world continues to move and grow at such fast pace. Martin writes, “For the last twenty-five years those who might have been lulled by capital’s utopian chords have been subject to a rude awakening.” (Martin) While he is talking about the lasting effects of imperialism combined with the increasing importance on capital and how together they have crippled nations, the rude awakening he describes is something seen in the movie. All of the images of the slum throughout the film remind the audience and continuously give them rude awakenings. These kids won’t have the lives that the kids in America and other Western countries will have. They will make do with nothing and grow up with so much less, all because of imperialist nations using and abusing the countries they took over. Both Jamal and Salim will reflect on this after they grow up and see how different their lives are.
There are so many scenes in which the movie offers a critique of imperialism but one of the most obvious ones is after Jamal and Salim have grown up and they look over their old slum. Jamal and Salim view their world in two distinct and different ways. Salim sees an opportunity for himself to exploit the city while Jamal is disgusted by his brother’s view. Jamal wants this place to become better than it is. Frederic Jameson’s article, “The Politics of Utopia” also offers insight into the way the characters view their world. Jameson writes that Utopia’s function, “lies not in helping us to imagine a better future, but rather in demonstrating our utter incapacity to imagine such a future—our imprisonment in a non-utopian present without historicity or futurity—so as to reveal the ideological closure of the system in which we are somehow trapped and confined”(Jameson 46). This relates to the movie and the viewer’s perspective because when you see these types of slums going to miles, it’s very hard to imagine a better future. It’s hard to imagine it getting better and going up from here. Jameson argues that people see Utopia to imagine a world that they want—to identify and fix the problems their world has.
One of the larger problems Jamal has faced and overcome in his life is the way he has learned. The movie truly focuses on the way Jamal has gained knowledge. He did not go to school and learn from teachers. Every question he answers is an experience from his life. This is related to imperialism because the countries that abandoned their colonies left them with very little to go off of. The colonized civilizations were used for the advancement of capital, usually through slavery or some kind of collection of a raw material. The colonizers left the countries without much, especially in the line of education. Most people were slaves, so the lack of an education system is definitely a remaining influence of capitalism. While other countries were advancing technologically and educationally, these places were set behind. Jamal’s ability to overcome this gives the viewer of the movie hope. But where the movie misses the mark is where it doesn’t address the other children. Yes, Jamal made it. But how many of his friends did? How many of them died in slavery and sex trafficking? That isn’t to say that some people don’t survive—of course they do. But the problems still exist.
Slumdog Millionaire really has a chance to send a message out to first world about third world problems. It has a great cast, a great director, and a great story but it just doesn’t go far enough. It could have done without the happy ending and the love story; however, maybe if it didn’t incorporate those into it people in the first world wouldn’t have been interested it in it and maybe it wouldn’t have garnered so much popular attention. While the movie did a good job in at least bringing up the issues of globalization and imperialism, it definitely could have gone further and made a stronger impact.
Jameson, Fredric. “The Politics of Utopia.” http://moodle.csun.edu/file.php/41749/http_www.newleftreview.pdf
Martin, Randy. “Where Did The Future Go?” Logosonline. Winter 2006. Web. 10 May 2013.
Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures, 2009. DVD.