Movies with Morals
Danny Boyle is as enthusiastic in person as his movies are onscreen. Many directors are already tired of talking about their movies by the time they make the rounds doing interviews. But Boyle seems as excited to talk about his high-spirited new family film Millions as most artists are when they begin a project.
When we sat down at the table in a lounge suite at Seattle's Fairmont Hotel, Boyle had a hot Starbucks beverage in his hand. "I can see you're already picking up Seattle habits," I laughed. "Seattle?" he said. "These things have taken over London!"
Boyle's a Brit, but he's no stranger to American moviegoers. The dark and disturbing Shallow Grave, the adrenalin-fueled drug-comedy Trainspotting, the high-spirited romance A Life Less Ordinary, the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller The Beach, the bone-chilling zombie thriller 28 Days Later—each launched by his explosive imagination. Boyle thrills his audiences with visual flourishes that make even his lesser films (that DiCaprio flick, for example) highly entertaining.
Millions is no exception. It has all of Boyle's trademark style and a bigger heart than any of his previous films. If it gets the proper push, it's likely to be his biggest U.S. hit yet. And in the wake of The Passion and its recent controversies, it's surprising to see another film in which the central character is so interested in the kingdom of heaven. So I began our conversation by thanking Boyle for introducing audiences to Damian (Alex Etel), the young dreamer who holds counsel with the saints.
In spite of Damian—a God-fearing boy and a friend of the saints—Millions never becomes "preachy." Was that difficult to do?
Danny Boyle: You can go through the whole filmmaking experience being careful, saying, "I've got to make sure this isn't preachy." But you can't make a film like that. What you do instead is concentrate on the essentials, the positives: the character and the kid playing the character. You're saying that this is the way he sees the world.
If the movie works, it's because you realize that life absolutely is that simple, the way Damian sees it. It's not like we're preaching at people and saying, "Don't you see it's that simple? Why can't you do that?" We're actually saying that when you look back at what you were like [at Damian's age], it was that simple. And that's not a bad thing. That's still us, even though we've moved on into the venal world of survival and competition.
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.