We saw Slumdog Millionaire yesterday. It’s a gritty story, less buoyant than grim, until an improbable ending that could only happen in the movies. We loved it anyway. It’s the only one of this year’s best-picture nominees I’ve seen, but I’ll go ahead and award the Oscar now — and wait, as I usually do, for the Academy to rubber-stamp my pick.
Rags-to-riches stories have universal appeal, especially one told so artfully as this. But I wonder if Americans aren’t ready for a look at the other side of the coin: Riches to rags. As uplifting as it is to see kids overcome cruel poverty, a better fantasy might involve billionaires going in the opposite direction. Imagine Bernie Madoff in ragged shorts, combing through a garbage dump in Mumbai. Tell me that’s something you wouldn’t pay to see.
But the rich never seem to get poorer, do they? Even the most venal and crooked seem to weather personal disgrace just fine. As far as I know, Mr. Madoff is still gazing down on Manhattan from the great height of his upper East Side apartment. Same with the other titans of greed, and there are a lot of them. Failure’s always an option and the consequence is a comfortable retirement. This is America: You hit a certain level of obscene wealth, and you become untouchable. In a good way.
Somebody makes a movie like Billionaire Slumdog, I’m first in line at the box office. I don’t want to see all the blameless greedheads blinded, necessarily, or dipped in excrement. But I would like to see them poor.