Redemption Wins an Oscar

Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.

[Ed. Note: The following contains spoilers for the movie Slumdog Millionaire.]

Dazzling lights dance across a dark stage and land on a beardless young man sitting in the hot seat. The Who Wants to Be a Millionaire theme song revs up as the young man answers his first multiple choice question in the smash-hit movie, Slumdog Millionaire.

Last month, fans of the Indian movie cheered as Slumdog breezed its way across the red carpet of the Academy Awards ceremony, grabbing eight Oscars, including best picture.

I should tell you that the film is rated R for its gritty subject matter and its intense (but not graphic) portrayal of child abuse, forced prostitution, torture, and gang violence. And I do not recommend it for young children.

Slumdog tells the story of 18-year-old Jamal Malik, who wins India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He triumphs, not because he is a genius, but because the events of his tragic life feed him the answers to every question.

As Jamal sits in the hot seat, his mind flashes back to his childhood in the slums, the death of his mother in a Hindu raid of his Muslim compound, the months he spent as a child slave, the dozens of odd jobs he took to make ends meet, and the heartbreak of watching his brother whisked up into gang violence.

Throughout the harrowing events of Jamal’s life, his heart remains true to Latika, the girl he loves. Despite years of separation, Jamal continues to search for her, eventually appearing on Millionaire, hoping that Latika might see him on TV and try to find him. Jamal and Latika’s relationship brims with youthful purity and faithful love, which stands in stark contrast to many typical silver-screen romances defined by sexual immorality and infidelity.

But that’s not the only element that makes Slumdog’s Oscar recognition so notable. The film also confronts the typically postmodern and nihilistic themes that run through many Academy Award-winning films. Instead of bowing to an existential worldview that claims that it’s up to everyone to create his own destiny, Slumdog asserts that there is an overarching narrative that governs our lives. While calling the film “Christian” would be going way too far, the plot brims with a sense of transcendence.

Even Danny Boyle, the director, who as far as I know does not espouse Christianity, can’t deny that his films recognize the presence of something beyond the physical realm. As he told Christianity Today, “there is something out there,” which is “bigger, wider than we can accommodate at the moment.”

But maybe the most remarkable thing about Slumdog is its happy ending. Like the story of our redemption through Christ, Slumdog is filled with plenty of tragedy, but it doesn’t end on a dark note. Perhaps we’ve grown so accustomed to tragic endings, that we’ve forgotten that we’re hardwired for joyous conclusions.

But don’t take my word for it. If you didn’t get a chance to see this exquisitely artful and exceptionally optimistic film, don’t worry. It [came] out on DVD March 31st.

A film as hopeful and redeeming as this one is definitely worth watching.

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