Being productive, finding love, earning a pay check, surviving daily grinds which transform into more complex annual grinds (in other words: Living Life) is sufficient an all-consuming occupation. Who has time to understand the grander nature of the process? Who has time to contemplate the questions WHY and HOW in a circumstance where WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE come knocking every crowded moment of every overly scheduled day. The average person who even attempts to intellectualize the meaning of it all is typically reduced to scanning Socrates on the subway (or even better, the toilet), interpreting Maimonides before passing out on a Friday night, or watching Deepak Chopra ruminate on TV (or even better, Dr. Phil). While the masses live lives void of an inner peace or elevated consciousness, writers (both for screen and page) continually produce tales of everymen who desperately search for (and more often than not find) their purposes in the universe. Each of us are mere specks in the wide, cold, clueless galaxy, but leave it to the artists to promote the notion that with some effort, our raison d'etre will present itself in a marvelous display of fireworks, string music, and end credits.
Two films currently playing in select theatres and enjoying overwhelming critical success continue the tradition of challenging the perceptible reality of chaos and randomness. Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire does so overtly, with a fantastic scenario, elegantly told with a straight face and a subtle wink, while Mabrouk El Mechri's JCVD accomplishes its task with a surreal, ultimately raw and stinging analysis of an actor portrayed by and modeled closely after Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Since 1995, Danny Boyle has proven that he can master any genre. From hip thriller (Shallow Grave) to twisted caper (Trainspotting) to gory horror (28 Days Later) to kiddie fare (Millions) to science fiction (Sunshine). Each one of his films are unique sparkling gems in their own right. With Slumdog Millionaire it is almost as if Boyle got tired of perfecting established genres and decided to create a new one. The film tells the story (through two tiered flashbacks) of a supremely decent boy, Jamal, who after growing up in a pre-industrialized, poverty infested Mumbai and overcoming a horrendous childhood filled with tragedy and gross betrayal somehow (see FATE) becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The gimmick (and I will call it that because that is certainly what it is) turns on the fact that Jamal, an uneducated (possibly street-smart) thistle in the wind, inexplicably knows every answer asked of him and begins to amass a truckload of rupees. How does he know all the answers even though the questions cover a range of topics and a variety of miscellanea from poetry, economics, literature, cinema, and mythology? Well, Simon Beaufoy's screenplay based on the novel by Vikas Swarup wants us to believe that it is written. In other words, Jamal is on a mystical journey, he travels an enlightened path, he treads a providential road. Why him? Was he chosen for a specific reason or is he simply another fortunate everyman? We are not told.
Okay. That's cool, I guess.
Though critics and audiences are raving, problems with Slumdog Millionaire do exist; including the concept that destiny can (or will chose to) manifest itself with such cavalier apparentness. It's all kind of a dumbed-down version of a lofty pursuit in the guise of a wise, omnipotent guru (hence