February 25, 2006

GENETICALLY MORALIST:

Movies with Morals: Versatile director Danny Boyle, the man behind Millions, has made some inventive films that are quite steeped in stories of morality. But he's a little reluctant to admit it …. (Jeffrey Overstreet, 3/15/05, Christianity Today)

Damian and his brother see the world so differently. Damian's generosity and compassion has its roots in his faith. Anthony's materialism, anxiety, and lack of trust are rooted in … what exactly?

Boyle: The whole structure of this story is built around the fact that Damian is 8. This was borne out by the research we did, by the auditions for Damian's role in this film—all of the 10-year-olds, like Damian's brother Anthony in the film, have a foot through the door of adulthood, and they're greedy for more of it. You can't turn back at that door once it's open. But the 8-year-olds—all of them—they didn't have that yet. So it's somewhere between 8 and 10 that it happens.

I've thought about it a lot, because I've got kids. I didn't notice that change in them myself, because when you're bringing up kids, you're bringing them up every day. You're not looking at sample groups like that.

So the whole film is built around the difference between Damian and Anthony and the battle between them. There's the older brother who's always talking about what's real and what's not, what the tax rate is and what it isn't, and what the mortgage is. The younger kid, he's talking about the "unreal." He's not self-conscious about things being unreal, because he doesn't even think about them being unreal. He sees these figures and he communicates with them, and that's his world. And it's tangible and real—it's not imagined.

So when he wins the debate, he gets to spend the money the way he thinks it ought to be spent, because they've all tried to do something that they wanted to do with it, and they've all failed. It's like that phrase, You keep what you've got by giving it all away.

That sounds like the refrain of almost every U2 song.

Boyle: It does! I was actually thinking of that song by Ian Brown, the guy from the Stone Roses: "Keep What Ya Got."

So, it sounds like we're to understand that Damian really does have these encounters with saints, right? Or is it instead that he's a kid with a really active, healthy imagination?

Boyle: Wordsworth, in one of his poems he talks about childbirth. You're born from the sea, and as you walk up the shore, you know where you've come from, and you can see your Creator. But once language (your ability to describe things) arrives, you've just come over the brow of the hill. And you look back and you can't see it anymore.

Before the point of language arriving, you're still in touch with your source. When you look at babies, there's something in their eyes sometimes. They look over your shoulder sometimes, and they're looking at something. And you look back, but you've lost it. And you think, "What are they looking at?" So I think there is something in that.

It's a brave thing to bring up religion in a movie these days. It was so controversial for Mel Gibson to put The Passion of the Christ on the screen, but that came from a deep sense of religious conviction. Is there any personal resonance for you with the iconography of Catholicism and the Christian tradition that inspires Alex's imagination?

Boyle: Oh, yeah, I was brought up a very strict Catholic. My mom was a devout Irish Catholic and she wanted me to be a priest, until I was about 13. One of her favorite saints was Our Lady of Fatima. So I was surrounded by it as a kid. My mom has been dead since 1985, but the film's dedicated to my mom and my dad.

I think the important thing about Damian's relationship with the saints is that it's his imagination. That's what allows him access to them or not. It's about whether you believe. Some people believe they're real—even some people making this film think they're real. Others think they're just flights of the imagination. But Damian is an artist, and he has access to that. It will take him different places as he gets older. So it's not like he's a religious figure. It's faith that's linked to the imagination—the power of taking a leap—rather than it being faith in a strictly conventional religious sense.

You made Millions soon after the zombie movie 28 Days Later. You've done wild romantic comedies and now you've got a sci-fi project in the works. Is there a central theme or a moral question that runs through your projects?

Boyle: As soon as you say they're about morality, you're heading in that territory where things become preachy. But there is a moral factor to them, yes. I think all you try and do is test your own principles against ideas.

I personally accept that we've left behind ideologies. As Westerners, we've become what we are: consumers. But within that, there remain principles that you do have or you don't have. And you can test them in certain circumstances through stories.

I think they're all very moral films, but I wouldn't particularly want them to be known as that, because they're not meant to be. That's like the DNA of them.


For an interesting look at some of his earlier work, check out Hamish MacBeth

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 25, 2006 12:00 AM
Comments

There are two scenes in "Millions" that perhaps were included to hurry the eight-year-olds along the journey to 10? Damian's seeking parental reassurance in the middle of the might and discovering his father in bed naked with his new girlfriend; and a scene in which a 10-year old student obviously is attempting to use some of the newly gained money to buy a sexual favor from a young female classmate. I had to gently discuss these "grownup" scenes with my niece of eight years. I'm a admirer of Doyle's work, 29 Days Later is a brilliant zombie movie, Trainspotting shows drug addiction for the horror it is (and does not glorify it, as it was unfairly accused of doing at the time). I recommend Millions and adore the dignified depiction of the saints (Saint Joseph's appearance is especially beautiful), but parents of the "eight-year-old demographic" should be ready for the above-mentioned two scenes. Doyle reluctantance to admit to his faith probably stems from a concern that what happened to Gibson could befall him in the even more militantly secular culture of the UK. Thanks for the Hamish Macbeth series tip; as a devourer of Midsomer Murders, I will pounce on them.

Posted by: Brother Qiao at February 25, 2006 2:04 PM

If you want a deft morality tale, check out Shallow Grave.

Boyle directed a couple of Inspector Morses too, as did Anthongy Minghella.

Posted by: oj at February 25, 2006 3:35 PM
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