Damian, 7, and his brother Anthony, 9, move with their dad to suburban northern England to make a fresh start sometime after the death of their mom. Damian is obsessed with the Catholic saints, eagerly describing facts about their lives, miracles and deaths to anyone who might listen. It’s hard to blame him, since St. Francis, St. Peter and St. Nicholas, among others, regularly appear to him for a little conversation.
When a Nike duffel bag full of money seemingly falls from the sky at Damian’s feet, he believes it’s a gift from God to give away to poor people. Anthony, more practical and earthbound, sees it as an investment opportunity and says they should not tell their dad “because of the tax.” They’ve got to figure out what to do with it quickly, though, since the British pound is to be replaced by the new euro in a matter of days and will thus become worthless.
Eventually, Damian’s irrepressible generosity and Anthony’s conspicuous consumption begin to arouse suspicion from their dad and others. It also attracts the attention of a scary man who knows all about the money and is coming to get it.
Millions’ strongest message is that having lots of money can cause more problems than it solves, corrupting nearly everyone who comes into contact with it. The love of money is shown to lead good characters astray into lying, conflict and unhappiness. (Read 1 Timothy 6:10 for the scriptural parallel.) It also exposes the family to danger, and it’s said to make it “harder to see what’s what.” Even giving away lots of money is shown to be difficult, though Damian’s generous instincts are lauded and eventually shown to have an extremely positive result.
Additionally, the film is a kind of celebration of child-like faith, perspective and desire to do the right thing.
Damian loves to talk about the Catholic saints to whomever will listen. When asked about heroes at school, instead of picking sports stars as the other kids do, he describes St. Mark and St. Agatha.
The saints who visit Damian are friendly, sport cool glowing halos and dress in period garb. St. Francis and St. Nicholas encourage (and help) Damian to give some of the money to the poor. Martyred saints of Uganda describe how much good Damian could do by giving money to dig wells there. Etc. But they are also irreverent, smoke joints and swear. St. Claire of Assissi describes heaven as “bloody” infinite and says you can do whatever you like up there—including, evidently, getting high. St. Peter exclaims, “For Christ’s sake,” talks about being “on the door” in heaven and systematically attempts to debunk the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitudes. (More on that in the “Conclusion.”)
For a Christmas play in which he plays Joseph, Damian argues convincingly with the director about Joseph’s mood as he walked toward Bethlehem. The “real” Joseph appears to give his own spin and later is glimpsed helping out the family in various ways.
A few Mormon men live nearby. At a community meeting, they start talking about giving away our treasure on earth to reap heavenly reward. When Damian takes an interest because they call themselves “Latter-Day Saints,” his dad hustles him out of the room. Later, Damian decides the meager circumstance of their communal lifestyle means they’re poor and anonymously gives them lots of cash. When asked by someone how they came up with the means to buy a TV, microwave and other items, they reply that they had been praying to God for comfort and thought this was His answer.
When Damian eventually learns the money is stolen property, he’s discouraged because, he says, “I thought it was from God. Who else would have that kind of money?” He maintains firmly that God does not steal. And after Dad finds out about the loot, and considers keeping it, Damian plaintively objects, asking if his dad doesn’t want to go to heaven (“It’s wrong!” Damian cries. “Who says?” his dad shoots back. “God!” Damian retorts.) His dad resists Damian’s pleas, though, insisting that (due to a convoluted set of circumstances) he’s owed the money and that, “We’re on our own. No one is smiling down on us.”
Damian asks all the saints he encounters whether they know a St. Maureen—his mom. When she eventually appears to him, she says that the qualifications for sainthood are strict and that you have to perform a miracle to attain such a lofty spiritual level. Her miracle, she explains, was having Damian.
A series of TV commercials feature a lecherous old man draping himself around a buxom young woman showing lots of cleavage; each ad brings them closer to making out. After ogling a sexy pitchwoman on the Internet and commenting to Damian that, “I’ve seen better,” Anthony shows his younger brother a lingerie Web site. He zooms in for a close up on one image (that we see clearly) to point out a nipple visible through the fabric. Damian asks what it’s for; Anthony says it’s for feeding babies and that he remembers their mom feeding Damian that way. Damian lingers over the image for several moments, seemingly pondering this idea.
Damian’s dad starts dating Dorothy, a humanitarian fundraiser. We see the two briefly kiss at one point. Later, Damian walks into his dad’s room, waking him and Dorothy in bed together and apparently naked.
Damian describes to his class gruesome details of death and dismemberment from a couple of stories involving saints. The large suitcase of money crash lands into a cardboard box fort Damian is occupying, flattening it. When the friendly martyrs of Uganda appear to Damian, at least one has blood on his hands (the marks of stigmata?) and a bloody wound around his neck from where he was decapitated.
Robbers with bats attack guards at a train station. (Nobody appears to be seriously hurt.) A high-speed car chase ensues, complete with crashes. Damian’s house is burgled and trashed. The bad man who is after the money grabs Damian roughly and threatens him and his family on several occasions. There is an intense scene in which we think he has Damian trapped alone in an attic.
Swearing in Millions (one use each of “bloody,” “Christ’s sake” and “bastards”) mostly comes from saints in their visitations to Damian. God’s name in interjected by the living once or twice, as is the hostile crudity “p— off.”
St. Claire lights up a hand-rolled cigarette and blows smoke rings. Damian’s dad and Dorothy drink at dinner. Later, they drink lots of (celebratory) champagne and get quite drunk together.
Anthony and Damian sorrowfully inform people that their mom is dead to get free stuff. They repeatedly lie about the money to everyone, including their dad and Dorothy. Later they lie about the money to others with their dad’s approval.
Millions might be most fun to look at. Director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle refuse to leave any scene ordinary, capturing the imagination of children with vivid colors, unexpected angles and extraordinary graphics. The filmmakers also hit a homerun in casting first-time actor Alex Etel as 7-year-old Damian. More than just adorable, Etel communicates volumes through his big eyes and wide-open face. You can’t help but love the kid.
The director of the critically praised but firmly R-rated films Trainspotting and 28 Days Later might seem an odd choice to helm a sweet-natured (PG-rated) children’s movie, as Millions is being marketed. But Boyle has succeeded in crafting a fanciful yet challenging movie.
It also exudes strangely mixed messages about faith and money.
The tag line on the first movie posters I saw for Millions was, “Can anyone be truly good?” But, apparently concerned that such a philosophical marketing effort might turn viewers away, the slogan on the movie’s posters and Web site were later altered to the more inspiring, “You can change the world.” And that idea is where the movie’s spiritual and religious messages break down.
Although Damian experiences miraculous mingling with the saints, all other “acts of God” are discounted. What really matters are the deeds of men. To drive home the point, St. Peter recounts to Damian that those few loaves and fish were not supernaturally multiplied to feed thousands, as the Bible teaches. Instead, as the plate was passed, people added to it with hoarded food instead of taking from it. The real “miracle,” he says, was the generosity of that one little boy who gave his lunch and started the flood of giving. See, it’s all about us, not God.
In a similar way, Damian’s mother tells him there’s enough good out there to make things right and that we all need to have faith … in people. Like so many films with religious themes, the faith of Millions is placed in human goodness, not God’s goodness. (The New Testament, in 2 Timothy 3, warns of those who demonstrate a form of godliness while denying His power.)
So, can anyone be truly good? Millions, with all its warmth, humor and inspiration, would want you to think so. The Bible flatly says no (Is. 64:6). We might do good things. But it takes the power of Jesus—power that can miraculously feed thousands with one lunch—to transform greedy, lying, selfish humans into godly people. We can’t pull that miracle off on our own.