The misery that was Us last week almost convinced me to see Dumbo. Perhaps I should have, but not because Hotel Mumbai was a bad film. I have a strange relationship with Disney. I do not mind saying that I am an annual pass holder and a Disney Vacation Club member. But the empire’s foundations, its films, I have never particularly enjoyed. There are a few exceptions: Swiss Family Robinson, both Tron movies, and some others I am not remembering. But I am not thrilled by the princesses, I do not coo over Winnie the Pooh, and I really am not awed by Mickey Mouse. I like going to the parks. They are fun. So I steered clear of the flying elephant and opted for the weightier Hotel Mumbai.
What strikes you pretty early on about Hotel Mumbai is that the events depicted happened on just a regular day. There was nothing seemingly special going on. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the people the film focused on, though the Taj hotel where the bulk of the action occurred did have many affluent people staying in its historic and opulent rooms. It was your typical, loud, crowded afternoon in Mumbai when the terrorists struck. Then again, that is the nature of terrorism, I suppose, the awful, senseless way it usually happens. The terrorists were portrayed in the film as moving from place to place dispassionately killing the “infidels” as they went. No matter the pleas for mercy, they pitilessly gunned down anyone with which they crossed paths. It was hard to watch.
Of course, one does not need to watch Hotel Mumbai to know just how terrible are these kinds of attacks. And one can also imagine that the movie dramatized aspects of those days for effect. But I found myself tensing up with every gun shot, every explosion. In a sense, I am thankful for my reaction because of the wide variety of violent movies out there these days and my lack of desensitization to them. Us proved this to me too, but I found the process with that one so much more distasteful.
The comparison between Hotel Mumbai and Us bears a little more attention, particularly on the subject of race. Where the latter had a more cynical take on the subject, the former showed that, under equally dire circumstances, the barriers that race usually throws up can be overcome. When a white women points to various people she is holed up with in the hotel as being possibly in league with the terrorists, Arjun (Dev Patel) shows her pictures of his family and calmly explains the symbolic meaning of his turban, even offering to take it off if it truly makes her uncomfortable. And to her credit, she declines. Call me naive, but love can conquer all.
To this reviewer, prayer is also a form of love. I have told youth and young adult Catholics as much in various talks I have given. There is a telling scene in Hotel Mumbai where Vasili (Jason Isaacs) claims that prayer is what caused the attack in the first place. I would submit that terrorists screaming “God is great” is not prayer, but rather the raving of lunatics. Instead, what I would call prayer is when one of the terrorists holds a gun to the head of Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) and she begins to sing verses of the Qu’ran. There is the old saying that when you sing you pray twice. Zahra’s double prayer saved her life. That is what I call a miracle.
For all the death and destruction of Hotel Mumbai, it is moments like Zahra’s prayer that makes it worth a view. May God Bless the ones whose bravery did not result in living through those awful events.