Travel is Fatal to Prejudice–and Provincialism

A federal holiday means movie day around our house, and yesterday Eyegal and I trekked to the local mega-cinema for a showing of what will most likely be Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire (forget all the preening and pretentious envelope-drama, this one’s a lock).

This kaleidoscopic, Dickensian pauper-to-prince tale came highly recommended and did not disappoint, but be warned–it’s a rough ride. There’s one scene in particular that made this Eyeguy cringe more than all the others put together, but even amid the torture, squalor and exploitation of the Mumbai ghetto the human spirit rises, irrepressible, and at the end of the bumpy journey, redemption awaits.

By now most of you know the storyline and there are good reviews here and here. So let me leave you with the one impression that burned into my mind like a hot-branding iron as I emerged, squinting, from the darkness of the theater into the glorious light and unseasonable warmth of a February Alabama afternoon:

We are so blasted provincial.

We worry and fret over so-called Big Issues (the size of the stimulus package, “big government,” gay marriage, school prayer, evolution versus ID, whether or not Oprah is the “Most Dangerous Woman in America”) all the while forgetting that we do so simply because we had the dumb luck of being born in a land of plenty. We work ourselves into a wad because we have the time, space and the luxury to expend such mental energy.

Meanwhile, in distant places, a Darwinian drama unfolds as homeless waifs rummage through the trash for their daily bread and predators lie in wait, Cokes in hand, ready to exploit, abuse and even blind.

Mark Twain once said that “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”  Turn off the talk radio, walk away from the Web and take the cinematic journey that is Slumdog Millionaire; you may find your provincialism biting the dust as well.

(And be sure to sit through the closing credits for the obligatory Bollywood-style dance scene. Eyegal and I have probably missed our chance to carry on like that, but we sure like watching others kick up their heels).

  1. That Girl

    From Facebook:

    I saw that yesterday. I’m still processing all that I saw. Great movie.

  2. Kile

    From Facebook:

    We went to see Slumdog this past weekend. Unfortunately it was sold out. This was our second attempt to see it. Unfortunately we instead saw “He’s Just Not That Into You”. I feel that I have been dminished by the experience.

  3. Suzannah

    From Facebook:

    That was a good movie. Much better than I had expected. It should win.

  4. Gina

    From Facebook:

    Great movie! Saw it a few weeks ago. Loved the Bollywood ending – a relief after the rest of the movie. The ending is not so sweet, but if you liked Slumdog, you might want to see Water.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    To do it justice, here’s the full Mark Twain quote:

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

    Innocents Abroad

  6. Mike the Eyeguy

    Come to think of it, reading broadly, taking in perspectives not native to our own, will do the trick as well.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    Gina, the Bollywood dance scene was the first time I relaxed in the entire movie.

  8. carolinagirl

    ME: Sounds as if I need to add this one to my list of movies to see.

    Now, about that Twain quote: Vegetation usually causes us to wrinkle. I can’t understand how anyone can be content with getting all wrinkly in their little corner of the world.

    Of course, this comes from someone who has moved seven times in 19 years…and am fixing to do it again.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    No risk of wrinkling with you, cg.

  10. Laurie

    I left the theater sobbing and my husband says, “Why are you crying? It had a happy ending!”

    Yes, but…

    (It didn’t help that the brother who comes to no good is the image of a young French soccer player whom I love, and who also has issues, and who will also probably come to no good in the end.)

    I absolutely loved this movie. At least after it was over. Now that I know how it ends, I’m desperate to see it again.

  11. Laurie

    Oh, also, we were up in Vancouver BC this weekend and they had the book on sale in the local (huge) DVD/CD store. I was perusing it while my men-folk were looking for movies and music.

    It looks very different, plot-wise. (Although it has, of course, been re-released with pictures of the actors on the cover.) I think I’ll have to put a hold on it at the library.

    Also, is Freida Pinto (female adult lead) the most gorgeous creature on the planet or what? I saw an interview with Freida and Dev Patel (main male lead) on YouTube and got the feeling that a) he can’t believe his luck in being in this movie, and b) he has a mad crush on her. It was very cute.

  12. Mike the Eyeguy

    Dev Patel is making Geek look cool, and Freida Pinto is, well, what you said.

    The Ellen interview is good, too.

  13. Bill Gnade

    Dear Mike,

    I have not yet seen the film though I intend to. Thanks for the encouraging review.

    May I throw a curious wrench into the works? How about this quote from Mr. Twain:

    “One of the most astonishing things that have yet fallen under our observation is the exceedingly small portion of the earth from which sprang the now flourishing plant of Christianity. The longest journey our Saviour ever performed was from here to Jerusalem – about one hundred to one hundred and twenty miles. The next longest was from here to Sidon – say about sixty or seventy miles. Instead of being wide apart – as American appreciation of distances would naturally suggest – the places made most particularly celebrated by the presence of Christ are nearly all right here in full view, and within cannon-shot of Capernaum. Leaving out two or three three short journeys of the Saviour, he spent his life, preached his gospel, and performed his miracles within a compass no larger than an ordinary county in the United States. It is as much as I can do to comprehend this stupefying fact.” (The Innocents Abroad)

    I am also reminded of something Terence said:

    “I am a man: I hold that nothing human is alien to me.”

    I have not traveled the world but I have crossed the country and the Atlantic. What I’ve noted is that some travelers travel solely to have control over their neighbors. This is not merely about bragging rights, nor is this about the generation of envy. It’s about controlling conversations with “Well, I’ve been there, and I KNOW” sorts of locutions. It’s about seeking an authoritative advantage (often over one’s homebody parents). I guess what I am saying is that some of the most prejudiced and provincial people I know have traveled a great deal. I say this not to pick a fight. I say it merely because it is true.

    Anyhow, I look forward to watching the film, though, disappointingly, I will most likely view it in my home.

    Peace to you,


  14. Mike the Eyeguy

    I think I understand what you’re saying. I think what you may be pointing toward (although you didn’t use the word) is a lack of humility on the part of some who have traveled and “seen it all.” Of course, others who have stayed at home believe that “all that they see” is all that there is.

    Both sides need to feast on some humble pie.

  15. whoopigsooie

    Great flick, start to finish. The movie covers all the bases and touches every fabric of human pain and compassion. Scene that made me scream out loud in the theater…clue…”how bad do YOU want an autograph from your most coveted icon?” Wow!

  16. Mike the Eyeguy

    Yeah, I was thankful that “smell” is not included in the theater experience. It reminded me of a story my father told me once about when he was young and he and his cousin got in big trouble for playing “beneath the outhouse.”

  17. Christopher Mills

    Dev Patel and that indian chick really rocks on the movie Slumdog Millionaire.~-*

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