Rated R because it is an overall bleak movie that seems to comment that humanity is just of rotten human beings. There's a lot of vulgar talk during the film. People treat each other terribly. There's death and violence, often because of a cruel disparity of class. There is a mild amount of sexuality. I can't believe that I'm writing this, but the overly patriotic might be sensitive to some of the comments made about America. R.
DIRECTOR: Ramin Bahrani
They're all bleeding together. It's all become too much. My brain is leaking out so much stuff about movies that I just feel like I'm in a haze. A cup of tea, too hot to drink, is sitting next to me. I hope it gives me the focus I need to write today. If I'm way off about this one, forgive me. I don't know when I'm going to have time to finish, but I promise to at least try my darndest.
The White Tiger kind of came out of nowhere for me. I remember when Netflix recommended it to me. I watched the trailer and thought "pass". Maybe the cut of the trailer was weak, but it looked super cheap. When it showed up as an Academy Award nominated movie, I was flummoxed. I was beside myself. That movie didn't look like it was quality. I was wrong. The White Tiger, in a year full of impossibly great movies, added to the pile of movies that you should probably watch this year. My gut says to avoid saying the following, but I'm a sleepy peepy so here goes: I can't deny that The White Tiger is kind of a way more pessimistic Slumdog Millionaire. Maybe that is the story of India for the Western world. The movies that we get about India is about how the hero is poor and abused for bulk of their lives. It is through insane happenstance and the selling of souls that people are able to pull themselves out of their situations. The theme that money is the root of all evil seems to be this common thread. With movies like The White Tiger and Slumdog Millionaire, the storytellers choose to acknowledge that money is life.
I have commented on this before with movies about India. I didn't mention this in 3 Idiots, which really does paint a portrait of me in a poor light. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her TED talk entitled "The Dangers of a Single Story", comments on what I am doing as a dangerous way to look at a country. I often look at what Western directors and storytellers say about India rather than what the Indian audience hears about India. Directors like Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle have painted the country of India as a place of duality: the horrors of poverty against the sheer beauty of a rich culture. Ramin Bahrani, with The White Tiger, seems to step out of the narrative that Indian audiences see with Bollywood, presenting the country of India as both up-and-coming and toxic. But that toxicity doesn't come from the internal part of India. Instead, it is India's attempt to compete on a global market. The movie, like many of the stories paralleling the American Dream, is fundamentally about money. Everything is money. The characters in The White Tiger are triggered by money as a primary motivator, even if they say they are not.
Placing the caste system as the foundation of this piece, the film stresses that, if you don't have money, you are worthless. Balram, not a moral character in his own right, continually stresses how the poor hate the poor more than the rich hate the poor. As cruel as the rich are to the poor, they acknowledge that the poor are needed to survive and succeed in this society. They beat them and underpay them. But it is in Balram's treatment of his peers that we see what the rich have bred into the poor. Balram, for somehow being the most innocent character in this society, has a Walter White way of treating the people around him. He exploits the secret that his co-worker is a Muslim in a society that hates Muslims. He pretends to pray to show how devoted he is to his master. This breeds a very bizarre relationship with his employer. His love for his master borders almost on a sexual love. The movie never implies that Balram is a gay man (although it doesn't necessarily deny that too much either. He is attracted to Pinky, although almost because it is forbidden.)
Balram insists that this is the relationship that mirrors a relationship between a parent and child, but that's part of his entire schtick. It's the show that he puts on for Ashok isn't necessarily accurate. It is more complex than what I'm making it out to be, which is what makes The White Tiger so interesting. But his obsession with his master is this idea that is fundamentally tied to economics. Inside Balram blooms this conflicted personality. He believes that his master is both a good man while knowing that he is fundamentally corrupt. That's not all on Balram by the way. Because Ashok behaves differently and more compassionately to the rest of his family, it becomes really confusing. But we have to remember: there is no heroic character. Capitalism has bred society to always love / hate the other. So watching this movie becomes really this complex thing. I call the relationship between Balram and Ashok almost romantic because there is no better way to describe it. It is this absolute adoration that Balram has. And because that love is so intense, when that love fails, it is natural that hatred that boils out of this. And it isn't really about Ashok. Balram is in love with the idea of success. When he is betrayed by Ashok's family, which is a genuine and deep betrayal, part of that hatred comes from the potential that is lost. He cannot be Ashok and that's a major part of what is crushing him.
The weird part is that, for a majority of the movie, Balram is sold as the innocent character...despite the fact that we know that he isn't innocent. When compared to the other drivers, Balram is referred to as the country mouse. But he's a character that turned his back on his ungrateful family. He's the character that destroys other people. His narration is to convince a Chinese investor of his own ruthlessness. Yet, Balram also attributes his spiral into darkness into the night that Pinky kills the peasant girl. We get the sense that the show that Balram puts on for Ashok is partially honest. I don't mean to degrade the entire blog that I'm writing (despite the fact that the last paragraph reads like unintelligible nonsense), but it kind of borders on how Clark Kent is both real and a façade. Balram the servant is fake, but he's also probably a part of Balram that is human. There is a death of this character once the peasant girl is killed and that death is tragic. But it is also this dynamic that isn't typical. The White Tiger has a story of characters who aren't good. I can't think of a good character in this, with the exception of Balram's nephew who is bred to be corrupt.
And it is in Balram's corruption that he oddly becomes heroic. We get that rich Balram is kind of gross with his riches. But he also combats the predatory natures that his financial contemporaries indulge in. Yeah, he runs a car service. He destroys his competition in absolutely despicable ways. But also rewards loyalty. He is the capitalist's dream and the capitalist's nightmare simultaneously. Man, the movie hates people with money and what they do to society. It's violent and conflicted. And it also seems eternally pessimistic. Because of Balram's metamorphosis, it offers the best solution as a tragic one. He has to abandon almost any likable traits, with the exception of ponytail that only works on Balram.
But there are really no good people in this movie. Part of me wants to exclude Pinky. Yeah, that seems like a lame fight, considering that Pinky is the one who drives the car into the girl and is freed from responsibility. But we tend to identify her as noble. She fights her husband's family. She rarely does anything inappropriate to Balram. She seems to have a strong moral code. She's the one who wants to report the death to the police. But the fact that she does run is really a problematic element of her character. If this movie is a commentary on money, Pinky might be the most damning character of all. It apparently is easy to have morals if you have money. Pinky fights for the morally right things every time she's confronted with things. But when money can't save her, she flees. That subtext is odd for a secondary character, but it also makes the film's primary message all that more palpable.
While I don't know if everything I wrote was coherent, I didn't know I would have that much to say about this movie. Instead, looking this movie from an economic status gives it a lot of depth. Yeah, I liked it even without the analysis element of this blog. But now thinking about it, I adore this film. It really is very good.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.