“All for one, and one for all,” the motto of three inseparable friends in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers, proclaims that the group as a whole triumphs and succeeds more than the sum of its parts. Based in France, the novel follows young d’Artagnan on a journey from his provincial life in an impoverished town to his ultimate success as a Musketeer. The rising up of the “under-dog” is, generally, a Westernized theme yet the same theme appears in the critically acclaimed film Slumdog Millionaire written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Danny Boyle. The film takes place in India and depicts a young Indian boy, Jamal, from the slums who, through his life-experiences, is able to win India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The film blurs Western culture, ideology, and capitalism contrasting it with the films representation of India as a corrupt and poverty stricken country. The motif of “the three musketeers,” then, comes to represent Western culture that the children in the slum attempt to emulate. Yet, as the film goes on, the motto “all for one, and one for all” and the camaraderie of the three musketeers melts away to the reality of the slums, and its “one for one, and one over all” mentality.
The motif first appears when the children are in school. Uniform-clad Indian children sit shoulder to shoulder in a small classroom with no chairs, while their teacher reads to them in Englishh from Dumas’ novel. When Jamal and his brother Salim are not paying attention because they do not speak English and therefore do not understand, the teacher hits them on the head with the novel. Literally, this is meant to show a kind of corruption in Indian schools. Westerners watching might find this appalling since child abuse is such a hot topic now a days. The action creates a diaologue between the movie and watcher, where the watcher immediately seperates their culture (the West) from the other (the East) saying “That would never happen here.” Furthermore, this scene becomes a metaphor. Figuratively, the novel, or western culture, represents the force at which education in India tries to emulate the education system of western society. Ironically, these western ideas, which the school teacher tries to “beat into them,” will never be realized due to the nature of the society: crowded classrooms, poverty, disinterest of students, etc.
“The three musketeers,” who up to this point in the movie were made up of only two, find their third musketeer after a religious battle between slums where many children lost their parents. Jamal and Salim, orphans now, are taking shelter from the pouring rain when Jamal sees Latika, another orphan, sitting outside unprotected from the elements. Jamal urges Salim to let her join them, so she can “become the third musketeer.” Salim, reluctantly, allows her to come and join the trio. But, again, as the film progresses, the harsh reality that is the slum shows how “the three musketeers” are merely an idea, not reality.
The reality is seen in betrayal. Salim, hungry for money and power, is shown early on as one who will sacrifice family and friends for his wants. He sells his brother’s prized picture of an Indian actor for both revenge and money. Salim, forces Jamal out of their apartment, so he can rape Latika then disappears with her after. Jamal, on the other hand, is meant to represent the “under-dog” with a good heart and strong moral compass. Despite the corruption he sees around him he continues to look for Latika, against all odds. It is through this determination that Jamal is able to be reunited with Latika and ultimately win “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
If the film is making a statement, separating the West from the East, than I argue that Salim, through is actions and character, is meant to represent the “East” and Jamal the “West.” Not only is this proven in the depiction of their characters but also in the final scenes of the movie when Jamal is asked, as the winning question, what is the third musketeer’s name. He uses a life-line and Latika answers Salim’s phone. Her answer tells Jamal that she is safe, so he then asks her the question. Her response is, “I don’t know. I never have known.” Proving, for one, that the idea of the “three musketeers” is more important than the actuality of it. And, secondly, proving that Jamal’s success on the show and in life is through his understanding and knowledge of Western Culture. He guesses the answer right; showing that, although he represents the West, he will never actually be “Western.”
I would argue that the rapid success of this film is due to its seemingly “global” perspective, bringing acclaim to a usually under-represented and misunderstood area of the world. Unfortunately, this claim is further supported by the idea of globalization, but in reality it is more an attempt to form a contrast to Western society through the creation of the “other,” that is India. In Fernando Coronil’s “Towards a Critique of Globalcentrism: Speculations on Capitalism’s Nature,” Coronil argues that “Since the conquest of the Americas, projects of Christianization, colonization, civilization, modernization, and development have shaped the relationship between Europe and its colonies in terms of a sharp opposition between a superior West and its inferior others” (369). The creation of the “other,” is not globalization, in fact it is exactly the opposite. Globalization “promotes diversity and represents a form of universality,” but when the “universality” is completely “Western” ideology there are alterior motives (369). Therefore, under the illusion of “globalization,” makers of films like this are able to capitalize on “the other.” Globalization is meant to offer “the promise of a unified humanity no longer divided by East and West, North and South, Europe and others, the rich and poor,” yet this exact separation is what makes money, and therefore dictates what films will be produced (371).
Until movies can act as a critique to globalization in that they “should seek to differentiate the globe and show its highly uneven distribution of power and immense cultural complexity” (371) movies will continue to use globalization as a mask for reality. Making money in the exoticism that is “the other.”
Coronil, Fernando. "Towards a Critique of Globalcentrism: Speculations on Capitalism's Nature." Public Culture 12.2 (2000): 351-74. Project Muse. Web. 7 May 2010. .