Saturday, February 28, 2009

The White Tiger

I just finished reading the book The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, which I was only exposed to because I recently joined a book club (I haven't attended the first meeting yet, more on that when I have), and that was the title for this month's meeting. All the better for me, since I probably never would have picked up this book while browsing the shelves of my favorite bookstore (note to self: I need to find a favorite bookstore in this area).

It was very interesting to see the movie Slumdog Millionaire while reading this book, since they both take place in India, and deal with extreme poverty. The White Tiger, however, handles the extreme poverty a little bit differently. As you may or may not have read earlier, I thought in many ways, poverty in Slumdog was romanticized. Two brothers, struggling against all odds, often triumphing, getting money from American tourists and engaging in humorous tricks to earn extra money. The White Tiger, also told from the point of view of a man living in poverty, does not romanticize the extreme poverty in India whatsoever.

As a boy, the protagonist was his father's only hope of a family member actually completing school, and getting a decent job; thus ending the cycle of poverty for the family. However, when the father dies from tuberculosis, the young protagonist, like his older brother, must drop out of school and start working in teashop. Eventually, the young boy decided to become a driver, because this will bring in more money for the family then working in the teashop.

The book provides an interesting look (at least, I assume it is an interesting and honest look, I suppose I am no expert) at the cycle of poverty in India. The servants, though they make money, hardly make an outstanding amount of money, and what money they do make must be sent home to their families. In turn, the families spend the largest part of the money renting the land they use to farm from the wealthy landowners, so it is still never saved. In the end, it is almost impossible to rise above the cycle of poverty you are born into.

The protagonist, in this story, is one of the few that manages to rise above the poverty and become one of the wealthy. The only way he is able to accomplish this is by murdering his master. Trust me, I'm not giving anything away. This is something the protagonist lets you know from the very beginning. The book left me, well, questioning how I felt about this protagonist. He was uneducated, subject to extreme poverty, and in many ways, a sympathetic character. However, there were things about him throughout the entire novel that detracted from this sympathy.

In terms of style, the book was written in a unique fashion. The book was a series of letters written by the protagonist, to the Premier of China, who was making a trip to India to see what motivates men to become entrepreneurs in such a corrupt, impoverished nation.

While this may never make a list of my top ten reads, I would certainly recommend it to others. It is interesting, and insightful. Even if it doesn't expose the true India, it certainly captures some honest aspects of human nature, some more attractive than others.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Well, better late than never, I always say. While I love the Oscars, and trying to see as many of the movies nominated for Oscars as humanly possible prior to the lovely award ceremony, I am also poor. So, clearly, this does not always happen. In fact, it never happens. This year, before the show, I managed to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon. The former I thought was a beautiful story with an exceptional performance by Cate Blanchette, although I felt it lagged a little in the middle/end; the latter I thought exceptional.

Two days ago, on my way home from work, my boyfriend balked at the idea of sitting in traffic hoping to get home, and we took an unplanned detour for dinner/movie while traffic cleared up. He's just going to have to get used to the traffic at some point, since neither of us can afford to do dinner/movie every time the traffic is bad, and it is always bad. So, we decided to see what all of the fuss was about, and check out Slumdog Millionaire.

First, let me tell you, I enjoyed this film immensely. The cinematography was beautiful and full of emotion, the music was beautifully and creatively paired with the story/scenery. The acting was...well, the acting was good, and it certainly moved the story forward, and served it's place in the movie. After seeing the movie, I can understand how a movie could be nominated for (and win) so many Awards, yet not a single individual performance was nominated. Don't misunderstand, it wasn't bad, there just weren't any devastating performances. For example, while I do not think Benjamin Button deserved a nom for best picture, I do think Cate Blanchette deserved at least a nom (I'm so happy Winslet won) for her performance. If only the judges agreed with me.

However, I had a few problems with the movie. For one thing, while the movie certainly portrayed some horrible aspects of poverty in India, it also somehow romanticized it. I don't know if I can quite articulate what I mean. While the protagonist, his brother, and his love interest suffered some horrible fates as children, it was always portrayed in this sort of "resourceful and scrappy kids at odds with the world, but winning in the end," that I think trivializes the very real problems of poverty facing India right now.

And there was one scene that I had real problems with. Well, let me rephrase that. I thought it was a fairly accurate representation of the truth, and I didn't like what I saw. In a scene in the movie, Jamal is being brutally beaten in front of American tourists, and he makes a comment about this being "the real India." So, of course, the wife in this pair of American tourists says "Well, we're gonna show you some of the real America," and looks meaningfully at her husband. He takes a minute to catch her drift, pulls out his wallet, and hands the young Jamal a $100 bill. The two leave, looking very satisfied with themselves. Now, while $100 is a generous sum if money, especially for an adolescent living in poverty in India, what exactly is this going to do to help this kid in the long term? Yet, as Americans, we do seem to throw some sort of money at the problems abroad, with no real help or long-term solutions, and then walk away regarding ourselves as saviours of the downtrodden. It did nothing to end the abuse, it did nothing to change the boy's lifestyle. No help. No guidance. Just a sum of money and the attitude that with that, we can save the world.

Now, analyzing every movie as some commentary on society as a whole will certainly suck all of the life and enjoyment out of it. However, it is silly to overlook this aspect of movies, since they are usually an accurate reprsentation of where we are as a society. Either by accurately depicting us, or simply by demonstrating what we find entertaining and are willing to pay to see (for the example, there is nothing wrong with a movie aimed at heteronormative dating. It's the lack of movies geared towards a homosexuals that is telling about what society wants/is willing/will pay to see). However, taken as a form of entertainment, I have to say, I truly loved the movie. It was heartbreaking at time, it struck and emotional chord, but in the end, you were rooting for the protagonist, and should have felt a profound sense of joy. At least, if you have a heart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

He's Just Not that Into You

So, I attended the movies with my mother this weekend, and watched "He's Just Not That Into You." It was, to say the least, an entertaining movie. Funny at some moments, emotional at others. I would lump it into a category with Sex and the City. In fact, the author of the book was a writer for the show Sex and the City, and developed the story out of a line in one of the episodes.

All in all, it was a very interesting movie. Not quite as fluffy as, say, "You've Got Mail" or "Sleepless in Seattle." More along the lines of Devil Wears Prada or, as I said above, Sex and the City. Definitely a genre I go to when I want to be entertained without having to think too hard, although these movies usually cause me to consider some interesting constructs within the society it represents.

For example, He's Just Not That Into You focuses very heavily on heterosexual relationships, with little consideration for homosexual relationships of any kind. In fact, what little representation of homosexual relationships exist in the movie is used as comedic relief, reducing sexual interest to 3 seconds or more of eye contact, while less than 3 seconds indicates a lack of sexual interest.

Furthermore, I don't really like the way women are represented in the film. I mean, yes, I do think the very underlying point of the movie is actually true. It opens with a young girl playing in a sandbox, and a little boy comes over and kicks her sand castle, saying mean things to her, such as she is "made entirely of poop," or something very comparable to that. The young girl's mother explains to her that the boy did this because he likes her, and doesn't know how else to show it. Thus, girls are taught from a very young age that when a guy treats you like shit, it's because he's interested. As we grow older, our girl friends give us excuses for the bad behavior on the point of males, explaining it in a million ways that don't indicate a lack of his interest, but rather his inability to commit, the fact that he clearly feels intimidated by you, etc. I agree that this is a lie fed to most young women, and that we would all be served better if we realized that men who treat us badly aren't worth are time, whether they are just that into us or not. Of course, the focus of the movie is not to not waste time on men who are jerks, but rather men who are just not that into you. So that you can spend more time finding the man who is just that into you.

Now, being that I actually am in a committed, loving relationship, I am not going to poo poo on the concept of love. However, the idea of needing to find a man to be happy and complete is exactly why women settle for men who treat them as less than the best. Furthermore, the representation of women, particularly Ginnifer Goodwin's character, is appalling. She just waits by the phone, calling the man she wishes were calling her, leaving bumbling, rambling messages on his voicemail. Her life it completely defined by trying out multiple dates, desperate for someone, anyone to call her back. Her eventual love interest hits the nail on the head, accusing her of waiting by the phone, anxious for the man to call, even though the date was mediocre at it's very best. Jennifer Anniston's character is upset that her boyfriend of 7 years won't get married because he doesn't believe in marriage, even though they are committed to one another in every other way. Though she breaks up with him, after a family tragedy, she realizes her relationship with him unmarried is more equal and loving than the marriages of each of her sisters, and is willing to live with him without getting married for the rest of her life. This would be a wonderful ending, and a strong statement on the social construction of marriage, except of course, the boyfriend decides to make her happy by marrying her anyway. Jennifer Connolly's character decides to put up with her husband's cheating, although she shouldn't. However, she does snap, kick him out, and ask for a divorce after discovering that he repeatedly lied about quitting smoking. Fair enough, I suppose.

The whole movie is full of stories like this. And of course, in the end, everyone finds their perfect love. Well, except for Jennifer Connolly, who simply has to put the pieces of her life back together after leaving her lying, cheating husband. At least she left him.