Thursday, January 22, 2009

Character Echoes

SPOILER ALERT!

This entry gives away part of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, so if you haven't seen it yet, STOP READING NOW and go see it. Then we can talk.

For anyone who hasn't heard yet, Slumdog Millionaire is a wonderful movie about a boy named Jamal who grows up in the slums of Mumbai, India, and goes on to win India's version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. The movie's structure is awesome ... every answer Jamal gives prompts a flashback that explains how he knows these answers at all. After all, he's a poor kid from the slums. He's not supposed to know anything.

But there was a scene in the beginning that I had to think about for a while before I understood it completely. Jamal finds himself locked in an outhouse when his favorite movie star is visiting his slum. Desperate for an autograph, the young Jamal holds his nose and jumps into the river of shit, holding the photo above his head so it won't get dirty. Then he runs through the crowd, and the movie star laughs at this boy who was willing to wade through shit to reach him. He signs Jamal's photo ...

I wondered about this scene for a while. Why include such a gross image? But then I realized how obvious it was: this one scene sets up everything Jamal does for the rest of the movie. Because ultimately, the movie is a love story, and as an adult, Jamal is willing to ... well, wade through shit for the girl he loves. The devotion of the child is later echoed in the love of the adult. 

Beautiful. Just beautiful. Jamal's character is one organic whole, and throughout the movie, I never once found myself doubting that he would love this girl in this way. After all, I'd seen what he was willing to do for a mere movie star.

Now all I have to do is make sure the core of my characters is as solid as this.


9 comments:

Jude Hardin said...

I think Jamal's brother Salim was the one who actually locked him into the outhouse, so the scene also serves to illustrate the contrast and conflict between the two brothers.

Truly an amazing film.

Mark Terry said...

Oh man, you gave away the ending! He wins the money AND gets the girl?

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark,

I told you not to read ... :)

LurkerMonkey said...

Jude,

You're right, but I wanted to keep the blog entry short. But yeah, actually, Salim did lock him in, and again, the scene showed the same cruel streak Salim would later exhibit. And what about when Salim sells the autographed picture? Kind of remind you of the scene when Salim stoke Latika from the station?

It's like they told the whole story in miniature in that one sequence ...

Man, I would love to write that tight.

L.C. Gant said...

What a fantastic analysis! Even though I haven't seen the movie, it actually makes me want to go out and see it. I'm weird that way, I guess. I enjoy picking apart movies even more the second and third time around. Thanks for the great perspective, LM!

Erica Orloff said...

JVZ:
Thanks for this. Because, you know, in both the things I want to work on, metaphor and allegory play a role, and I really think to play with story deeper, you have to think in these terms,
E

Richmond Writer said...

I had that experience! I was watching a movie being amazed at the character development. The good ones always manage this in what seems like an effortless way.

It also made me realize how my character doesn't have an emotional arc yet.

LurkerMonkey said...

L.C.,

I highly recommend it ...

LurkerMonkey said...

Richmond,

It also made me realize how my character doesn't have an emotional arc yet.

I can relate to you on this one! Good luck drawing it out of your story. I learned this lesson one particular time, when I worked over a book again and again. My problem was that I had fallen in love with the plot and the MC kind of sat there like a lump as the story whirled around him.