Midnight’s Children is a film that takes the audience through four generations of one family, each stage representing a different phase in India’s ongoing struggle for independence. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a unique take on a story seldom told. The problem is that the source material does not translate well on-screen. The narrator (Salman Rushdie) is ultimately rendered unreliable, the story unbelievable, and blatant attempts at humor fall flat on their face.
Despite all of this, director Deepa Mehta does a decent job of maintaining a consistent pace and flow throughout. The major conflict arises when – three-quarters of the way through the film – we’re asked to accept that what’s been sold as an ongoing dream sequence up to that point was actually occurring in some kind of alternate reality. It’s a buzzkill that effectively eliminates any and all credibility the film – and its narrator – have earned up to that point.
While Rushdie is obviously trying to make a point here (i.e., The dreams we ultimately end up realizing are not always the same dreams we might have imagined) it simply doesn’t translate well via this medium. By the time the major twist occurs, Midnight’s Children has spent nearly two hours assuring the audience it was dealing in stark realities. To attempt – and pull off – that type of bait-and-switch is a very tall order, indeed. And Midnight’s Children just so happens to be a case in which the effort is clearly there, but the equal or greater payoff is not.
The film is long, it’s hokey, and it fails to lift you up any more than it brings you down.
To steal a line from Rushdie himself, everything is not “tickety-boo”.
(Midnight’s Children opens in limited release this Friday.)