Film Review


Review by Clodagh Weldon, M.A., D.Phil.
Dominican University


Vol. 10, No. 1 April 2006

Danny Boyle's Millions

[1] "The heart is not commonly reached through reason but the imagination.” This quote from John Henry Newman (1801-1890) captures the essence of this magical little film from British Director Danny Boyle. Millions (2005) is the story of two young brothers, Damian and Anthony, who with their father (played by the roguish yet affable James Nesbitt) are grieving the death of their mother, Maureen. Influenced by his Catholic belief in the communion of saints, Damian wants to know if his mother is now a saint, because if she is, he knows that he will be able to continue a relationship with her. Anthony and his Dad, on the other hand, grieve very differently. They do not share Damian's "weird” faith, seeing in death a relationship that is now in the past. They want to move on and start a new life in a new home with new appliances in a new city ( Liverpool, England). While Anthony and his dad revel in the flashy new appliances, Damian's imagination is taken by the boxes. In no time he has built a den by the train tracks, creating a place to meet his friends, the saints. It is, to use a biblical analogy, Damian's "meeting tent” where God and the saints are really present. As Boyle said in a recent interview "They are not statues, they are real to Damian.” Indeed he talks to them, debates with them and, most of all, is keen to know if they've ever met a St. Maureen ("She's new”, he says).

[2] One day Damian is conversing with the saints when a large bag of money falls from the sky and destroys his den, a prophetic symbol of the power of mammon to destroy ("You cannot serve God and mammon”, Mt 6:24). As he opens the bag he beholds ₤229, 320, which given the current exchange rate is approximately $400,000 and given the hyperbolic imagination of a child is simply "millions.” But the money is in pounds and the UK is within days of entering the euro – oh how the imagination pervades this film!

[3] The question "what should they do with the money?” provides the driving force for a script Boyle has called a "commentary on consumerism.” In a memorable scene St Clare of Assisi (1192-1253 C.E.) rolls herself a cigarette and tells Damian, "You can do what you want in heaven. What matters is what you do on earth.” Damian believes the money is a miracle from God, and as a rich young man he knows he should give it to "poor people” (echoing Mt 19:16-30), and so he wanders around his nice new neighborhood asking "Are you poor?” Of course they're not poor – at least not materially, and the cynical older brother mocks, "Where are you going to find poor people around here?” But on another level Boyle clearly wants to make the point that they are (spiritually) poor precisely because they are not (materially) poor, - they do not have "treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21).

[4] Eventually Damian finds some "real” poor people and takes them out to dinner at pizza hut. He gives money to Africa at school, and with the help of St. Nicholas of Myra (270-343 C.E.) puts hundreds of pounds through the letter box of the Mormons down the street (which they spend on flashy new appliances).

[5] Damian's brother, on the other hand, thinks that his little brother is plain weird. Normal boys admire Wayne Rooney and David Beckham; Damian looks up to St Francis (1182-1226 C.E.), St. Joseph (dates unknown) and the Ugandan martyrs of 1881 (who appear as laborers in the fields with blood dripping from their decapitated necks). Anthony, for whom the origin of the money is ethically irrelevant, has very different plans: he'll buy some friends with the latest technology and invest in real estate. He is Boyle's metaphor for contemporary consumer-driven society.

[6] When Damian discovers that the money was in fact from a bank heist gone awry and they have a nasty burglar on their case, his faith is challenged and his childlike world shattered. "I thought it was a miracle but it was just robbed,” he says. His Dad tells him there is no God and they should keep the money, after all it will be worthless in a few days. Not sharing his father's utilitarian approach to ethics Damian protests, "It's not right.” But it is Anthony, the situation ethicist in the family, who comes up with arguably one of the best reasoned lines in the movie: "It isn't the money's fault it got stolen.”

[7] The movie of course has a happy ending with the appearance of St Maureen, as Damian, the rich young man, discovers that his treasure really is in heaven.

[8] Millions is highly recommended as a great movie about faith, reason and the power of the imagination.

JR & F
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