The themes of Greed and Blessing in Slumdog Millionaire


Warning : Spoilers. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie and are one of those people who don’t want to know what happens.

Slumdog Millionaire follows two brothers who make very different choices as they grapple with escaping from the hopelessness and poverty of Mumbai’s slum. For Salim money means hope. For Jamal it is his love for childhood friend Latika that drives him forward.

At the beginning of the movie Jamal and Salim flee an angry mob. Jamal’s concern extends to Latika who is also running. Salim fears that Latika will be a drain on them and resists helping her. Throughout the movie Jamal’s consistent love and concern for Latika contrasts with Salim’s willingness to treat her like a resource, using her when she adds value and rejecting her when she causes complications. Eventually Latika becomes a symbol of hope for Jamal. Finding her and loving her becomes his life’s cause.

While not the focus of the movie, this mob attack is a catalyst that drives the fates and choices of these three characters.  Touching on the ongoing animosity between Hindus and Muslims in Mumbai, Jamal concludes that “If there were no Rama or Allah, I would still have a mother.” I recently watched a documentary called Escape from Hamas in which Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef commented that the concept “love your enemies” was so novel and compelling to him that it eventually led to his conversion to Christianity.

Poverty leads Salim to constantly seek opportunities to make money. Eventually Salim chooses to join a local mobster, taking Latika with him. He experiences the satisfaction of getting whatever he wants and eventually rises up through the ranks. Pragmatist Salim pleads necessity to justify the moral compromises he makes in order to survive. Eventually he chooses to die surrounded by the cash that was so important to him, repenting of his choices and trying to right some of his selfish mistakes.

Jamal embraces love as the driving force in his life. Jamal manages to survive by holding legitimate, if menial, jobs. Getting money is not his objective. Early in the movie there is a scene in which Jamal, locked in an outhouse, is willing to fall into the feces at the bottom so that he won’t miss a joyful experience. Throughout the movie Jamal’s experiences reflect his desire for joy and willingness to sacrifice comfort to get it. It is the power of Jamal’s love that eventually frees Latika.

Set in a country where karma is a primary explanation for good and bad fortune, Jamal’s journey carries him through painful experiences in his life that provide him with the answers he needs to win the Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Using flashback to show how Jamal came to know the answers helps tell Jamal’s story without making it feel like a maudlin tragedy or soap opera.

In Slumdog Millionaire we see a poor and hungry Jamal act as peacemaker. We see him mourn. We see him practice mercy and seek to do what is right. We see his pure heart of love.  Jamal exhibits the characteristics of the blessed outlined in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). It would seem that it is indeed written.

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