Beliefnet
Director Danny Boyle is known for the big-screen hits "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later," neither of which is considered family-friendly entertainment (unless, of course, drug overdoses and flesh-eating zombies are your family's cup of tea). Yet his latest film, "Millions"--in which two young boys, Damian and Anthony, come across a large sum of money and have to decide what to do with it--is drawing audiences of all ages. Recently, Beliefnet editor Laura Sheahen sat down with Boyle to discuss the film and his views of reality, religion, and human generosity.

Your film "Millions" tells the story of two brothers who find money and have different ideas about what to do with it. The eight-year-old brother, Damian, who has imaginative visions of saints, believes the money should go to the poor.

Except they're not visions really--they're real. People say they're visions, but they're not really because the film is his film. It's the other people who can't see them who are the problem.

You said you wanted the tagline of the film to be "Keep it Unreal."

Exactly. In the UK that was [on] the original poster. And I loved it.

What do you think people are missing out on when they stick to reality or logic alone?

Imagination, really. The armies of realism try to unpick [Damian's] world and make him join in the realistic world. But I always think it's a bit disappointing, the real world.

There's a bit in "Trainspotting" where a baby crawls along the ceiling. It's a scary, horrible image, and it's rather crudely done because we didn't have any money. I remember them saying to me, "We're not going to do it. It will look terrible." I said, "That's not the point."

Often the imaginative process isn't dependent on realism, on making things look like they could really exist. The imagination, and what we go to cinema for, is often about something other than that. That's why I always keep hold of that.

The idea of this film, in the end, is about what his mom says to [Damian]: you have to keep faith in people.

I link faith directly to the imagination because it involves having "leapings" of things. There aren't steps there all the time. Some of it is trust; there's a gap that you have to go over.

People say, "How come you made a religious film?" For me it's not religious. I can understand for some people it would be religious, but to me it's about the imagination, about faith and belief in a wider context.

In some ways, you could call Damian a child mystic or an artist.

He is an artist. You can see it, that's what he'll become. Those icons that he uses for saints, they'll be replaced by other things, movies, music, art, whatever. He'll move into that world.

What can artists and mystics see that regular people can't?

I think regular people can see them. I think we don't often let ourselves.

You can train yourself to use it much more. Education can train people. A good teacher will reveal a good piece of work to you--a painting, or something--will teach you how to look at it.

Getting back to the Catholic elements in "Millions," it doesn't seem that Damian's family--his father and his brother--are particularly religious.

No.

Are we to understand that Damian is just an imaginative little boy who's drawn to the saints?

No. I think his mom brought him up religious. There is a hint that the father has lost his faith, presumably because of the death of the mom. And I imagine [his brother Anthony] has followed him in that...in the sense that there's no longer any pressure or any agenda in pretending, praying, or all the things you do as a kid when you're brought up religiously. [The brother Anthony] is "Great, I don't have to go to church anymore."

Whereas the little boy [Damian], you don't see him going to church, but he clings to that because it allows him access to a world beyond realism. In realism, his mom is not there anymore, so he's not interested in that world.

He's definitely been raised religiously. But it's interesting, at the end [his mother] doesn't say, "Go to church."

She doesn't mention religion at all.

That was because [the scriptwriter] Frank, who is still a practicing Catholic, and me, who am not a practicing Catholic, arrived at something together that we thought was really important: a secular spirituality she was recommending to him-how important it was to have faith in people.

What are some other elements of a secular spirituality that you think people should embrace?

Just free thinking. I think we get chained down so quickly. I think the church is guilty of realism sometimes.

That's an interesting charge.

Of rigid thinking. And what I love about it in the film is [Damian] doesn't let anybody unpick his world. Part of the process of growing up is that people try to nail your feet on the ground. I think you should be able to lift.

If people did that more, there would be more spirituality. For myself personally, I don't mean it in a religious sense, I mean in a much freer way than that.

I have a lot of contact with my mom. I feel like I do, even though she's been dead for a long time. I feel her influence very strongly.

So you feel like there's something out there?

Yes. Anybody in this walk of life, you do feel that very strongly. Because there's no explanation, sometimes you cannot explain with the laws of realism sometimes: coincidences.

You seem to have embraced a less specific spirituality now, but you've described your Catholic background as very strict.

I was an altar boy. I served every morning at Mass before school. When I starting rebelling, I said "I can't go to Mass, I've got homework to do."

Did you have a favorite saint?

I liked my namesakes--Daniel Francis Dominic--my confirmation name is Dominic. My favorite now, and the favorite in the film, is Joseph. We thought what a guy, called as a human being [to be] the stepfather [of Jesus]. We thought, let's make him the coolest guy. We cast him as an Arab--an Iranian friend of mine--because that felt right, especially these days.

There were some funny scenes with Mormons in the film--some gentle humor.

We tried to be generous with the humor. They are made fun of, to be honest, but it was meant to be generous humor. Because we can't make a film about generosity and make a savage, cynical film. The form and content have to be the same. You can't go about achieving generosity through cynicism. You have to do it through a whole-hearted approach to it.

A big question in the movie is money. Damian says "I found this money, I'm going to give it to the poor." Some would call this a childish response;Anthony, Damian's brother, says, "I'm going to buy property." If Anthony was an adult, he'd say, "Well, I'll set up a trust fund for this foundation that will help the poor." But Damian just walks up to people and asks, "Are you poor?" It seems so naive in a way, but then you think, "Why not?" How did we adults lose that simplicity?

Because we build these fences of cynicism and carefulness, especially in Britain, I don't know what it's like here [in the US].

Here too.

Where you just go "No, it's just way more complicated than that. They're not poor, they're actually pretending to be poor. The people you help are actually rich. You can't do it. Stop."

[With] the tsunami, that impulse of generosity was there.

And it breaks through the barriers.

Yes, it does. And as soon as it happened...in Britain, almost immediately, the fences start being resurrected afterwards, questioning that impulse, saying, "I wonder where the money went. I bet we're being ripped off. I bet there's people making a killing over there." But it doesn't change the impulse. It's still there. And it's meaningful.

An innate generosity?

And it's different from the corporate generosity. I think about David Beckham who's a big footballer [soccer player]. He is a celebrity and he's charity generous. And that's great, but you can't differentiate it from the PR image that he's building. He's making himself into a mini-Nike.

I think beyond all that, there is an innate generosity. It is partly empathy. To me, it doesn't have to be religious.

If you had found a million pounds when you were seven, what do you think you would have done with it?

I would have told my mum. [Damian] would have told his mom if she hadn't died.

Part of the movie involves drilling wells in poor countries. Can you tell us more about that?

We've been in touch throughout with Water Aid. They helped us make the film and we gave them some money from the film's budget. You can't give them very much because of all the legislation. But about 3000 pounds was put aside to make T-shirts for the crew. It's an agreed part of the budget. So we asked the crew...instead of T-shirts, would you give the money to Water Aid? So we did.

So they built some wells in Nigeria. Instead of T-shirts the crew got letters, and some pictures of the wells in Nigeria. They build them very, very quickly. If the film goes into profit, there's a percentage of the profit that will go to Water Aid. Admittedly very small.

How do you think people should spend their money? Because that's a big message of the film.

I'm a big fan of that ten percent idea, that you should give ten percent of your income away. If we could somehow make that part of our lives, that would be very good.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus