The slumdog in Aristotle

09 March 2009

The room lights went down and a young man’s face was on the screen. He was Jamal Malik, the main character of Slumdog Millionaire, the one who would be very rich two hours later. I could hear people commenting the awkward lack of trailers – what is an almost tradition today- but the voices went away as the room was getting darker.


The movie seemed to be a sequence of City of God, a Brazilian drama which tells a similar story (except for the romantic ending) directed by Fernando Meireles, in 2003.


The slums, the poverty, and the human bestialities are in each part of the story recreating and reinforcing not only the scenario of City of God but also Aristotle’s main idea in Poetics: the catharsis.


Aristotle explains that “in real life, men are sometimes too much addicted to pity or fear, sometimes too little; tragedy brings them back to a virtuous and happy mean. [Tragedy is then a corrective; through watching tragedy the audience learns how to feel these emotions at the proper levels]“.


Some modern analyses of Aristotle’s work indicate that catharsis is the feeling of relief for the audience because the tragedy isn’t truly theirs; however they had felt all the emotions of the characters during the play. In the end, the ecstasy set them free from these corrosive feelings.


I asked myself how far all that tragedy was from me and how fair I was a catharsis example. I can see those two boys in São Paulo streets every day at the traffic lights, near my work, on my way home. I am the audience but I am also in the tragedy.


In this sense, I didn’t get to laugh in some parts of the story, when everybody did, and I didn’t cry at the end either as many did because I knew I would see lots of slumdogs in the streets when I left the fancy mall to go home.


The inevitable comparison between City of God and Slumdog Millionaire isn’t the only thing that we, Brazilians, can take from that movie: the poverty and the social abyss isn’t our “privilege”, unfortunately.


At the end, a second awkward situation. The movie ended but nobody got up or left the room. They were all quite facing the screen. That was the ecstasy. Aristotle scored again.

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