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?