By JANE WILSON, Special Contributor | Published April 21, 2005
The tagline for Danny Boyle’s new movie, “Millions,” reads “Can anyone be truly good?”—and the film attempts to answer this question with charm, whimsy and a good-natured view of the role that faith, materialism and morality play in the lives of an Irish family.
The tone and subject matter of the film is a departure for Boyle, best known for more darkly dramatic fare such as “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later” and “Shallow Grave.” “Millions” centers around a young boy, Damian, whose mother has died and whose father has moved the family to a new housing development to start a new life away from the sad memories of the past. Damian is the type of boy who, while his father and older brother are unpacking the new flat-screen television and marveling at the space that the new house provides, takes the old packing boxes and builds himself a makeshift hut in a nearby field next to the train tracks. When the trains pass, the shaking hut becomes a rocket ship for the boy and takes him as far as his imagination can carry him. One day as he is alone in the hut, a bag of money falls from the sky, and he believes it has been sent from God.
Damian is also obsessed with questions of faith and religion; in particular, he loves to study the lives of the saints. He sees them and converses with them, and these conversations give him the opportunity to formulate his own ideas of how he should incorporate his faith into his everyday decisions. Of course Damian’s interest in the saints is also wrapped up in the loss of his mother. He asks each saint if they know a new “St. Maureen.” Obviously, he is worried about what happened to his mother and wants confirmation that his mother is all right and living with the saints in heaven. The depiction of the saints provides the movie with much of its humor and charm. They display a modern worldliness without losing the virtuous traits that have made them saints. Boyle portrays these men and women as realistic, with the suggestion that all of us could emulate their good works if we decided to strive to that end.
As the movie progresses, we learn that the money comes from a robbery: a large shipment of outdated cash had been sent away to be destroyed, and a band of robbers infiltrated the train and threw off the shipment, bag by bag. An added complication is that the movie takes place one week before the Irish currency changes to the Euro. The cash must be spent by Christmas Eve; otherwise it is useless.
The money becomes the testing point for the characters in the film—how they react to it is an examination of their ability to “be good.” Damian tries to help the poor, while his brother Anthony spreads the money around with his friends in a way that immediately elevates him to popularity in their new school. Their father and his new girlfriend have an entirely different reaction when they finally learn about the cash. Although the narrative gets a little confusing at the climax, the story of what happens to the money is both funny and heartwarming.
One of the biggest strengths of the film is its depiction of the two boys, Damian and his brother Anthony. They are both believable, though entirely different characters. Played by Alexander Nathan Etel, Damian is a freckle-faced charmer. He knows he is different than other boys, realizing that not everything or everyone that he sees can be seen by others. But his faith allows him to believe in himself and not worry about himself or his popularity. He consistently tries to do what he believes is right, and his conviction is touching.
Anthony, played by Lewis Owen McGibbon, is more worldly than Damian and cautions him to “try not to stand out.” Nevertheless, he always looks after his younger brother and tries to cope with Damian’s budding saintliness. Their father, played by James Nesbitt, seems well meaning but busy, so the two boys are often on their own, which fosters both independence and isolation from the adult world.
Although the movie does not feature traditional Catholic behavior—no one is shown attending Mass or praying, and the clergy does not make an appearance—it does offer a good-hearted look at the nature of faith, morality and good works. Miraculous things truly do happen to Damian, and his saints loyally watch out for the boy.
In trying to answer the question “Can anyone be truly good?” “Millions” shows, with much charm and humor, the influence someone can have when he tries to do just that.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.