Slumdog Millionaire

In theaters.

I have a fiction handicap (that is, not an imaginary ailment but a disability that keeps me from truly enjoying a great deal of fiction), and it is this: I don’t believe in destiny. No, more than that: I despise the very concept of destiny, not just intellectually but emotionally, spiritually, viscerally. It doesn’t make sense to me. It angers me. I’m okay with true love and coincidence, but once people start talking about how something was meant to be, or everything happens for a reason, or the future is written in the stars, or someone can only be happy with his One True Soulmate—when that happens, I pull away. My heart goes hard. I simply can’t follow where that goes.

That reaction is a big problem with countless stories, countless books and movies, so as damaging as I think the idea of destiny is, I kind of wish that my reaction weren’t so extreme. Take Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a good movie, and I loved, say, the first two-thirds of it. But then our hero, Jamal, starts talking about his childhood sweetheart, Latika, as his One And Only Love—nothing else matters, they are destined to be together, she is his only desire—and he’s behaving in a manner that is, by any rational measure, obsessive and unhealthy and, frankly, frightening. He ignores her expressed wishes, he scorns his own future, and it’s all supposed to be romantic, and I’m just thinking, No, no, no, no, NO.

To me, this is bad writing. I don’t believe that Jamal, that anyone, would behave in this way under the given circumstances. It’s too ridiculous, too extreme. Hell, that whole conflict—the whole star-crossed Jamal-and-Latika melodrama—seems contrived and stupid. I understand that we are supposed to go along with it for the sake of the story, and I try—I do!—because I’ve been enjoying the movie. And I guess I enjoy the rest of the movie, too—kind of. But when it ends, I feel detached, unmoved, disappointed. I know that’s partly my fault, but surely it’s partly the failure of Slumdog Millionaire as well?

Let the Right One In

In theaters.

One might think that it was terrible luck for Let the Right One In, a small Swedish vampire movie, to hit American theaters alongside the Twilight juggernaut, but I suspect the timing was actually a blessing (perhaps even intentional). The slow-moving subtitled film can’t actually compete with Stephenie Meyer’s massively successful franchise, but it can piggyback on the vampire madness as a kind of counterprogramming. Contrarians and snobs, who might otherwise have overlooked the moody little genre flick, will seek out Let the Right One In so they can rave about the good vampire movie, the one that doesn’t feature constipated acting, simplistic sex-is-bad messaging, and goofy sparkle-skin mythology. You laugh, but obviously the trick worked on at least one person.

The ironic twist is that Let the Right One In turns out to be a genuinely great movie—disturbing and haunting and beautifully filmed—and it deserves more than to be used as an ineffectual shiv in the side of a dumb Tiger Beat blockbuster. I hope that the audience it attracts with spite takes the time to admire its subtleties and appreciate it not just for what it isn’t (i.e., Twilight) but for what it is.

A Chanticleer Christmas

Chanticleer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday, December 4.

Attending Chanticleer’s annual Christmas concert quickly has become the one holiday tradition that Sean and I faithfully observe, just the two of us. We love it, but for a fleeting moment this year, I wondered whether we should go. The tickets are a big splurge for us, more than twice what I usually pay for other events, and the program is fairly similar year to year. Is it really rational to keep spending all that money to hear again the Gregorian chant processional and the Willcocks carol arrangements and the Jennings spiritual medley and the Biebl Ave Maria? Perhaps we should do something else instead, something new.

But that was just a fleeting moment of doubt because there is a very good reason that Chanticleer’s annual Christmas concert became our one special holiday tradition in the first place. Aside from time with family, music is what we both love most about the celebration of Christmas. The familiar melodies, hauntingly sung, make me feel like a child again, in the best sense, safe and warm and loved and special.

Fun with music videos: Holiday edition*

*These videos are in no way holiday-related.

“Love Story,” Taylor Swift; “Paper Planes,” M.I.A.; and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Beyoncé.

Since returning to New York on Sunday, Sean and I have had time for unpacking, catching up on work, and not much else, and I’m feeling antsy, not having anything to write about, so I’m falling back on my favorite standby: music videos.