I knew I was in trouble when a friend of mine described the book “Midnight’s Children” as a “classic – but emotionally draining.” I generally don’t do very well with emotionally-draining classics – in literature, or on the big screen. And sure enough, I had a tough time with this film version of Salman Rushdie’s novel about two babies switched at birth in a Bombay hospital as India was declaring its independence from Great Britain in August, 1947.
In many ways, the film is a study in nature versus nurture. One of the boys, Saleem Sinai, is the illegitimate child of a beggar woman; the other, Shiva, is the son of a wealthy couple. A misguided nurse makes the swap at the behest of a communist boyfriend who declares, “Let the rich be poor and the poor be rich!” as India struggles along its newly independent path.
As the years wear on, we see how the lives and fates of Saleem and Shiva are intertwined against a backdrop of political and social upheaval in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There’s also a heavy mystical element involving the two boys and dozens of other children born in that fateful midnight hour. The concept is intriguing. But overall, the characters never really grabbed me, the location and time shifts got confusing, and the movie felt even longer than its lengthy running time of two hours and twenty minutes.
Fans of the book may want to check it out. But I suspect that “Midnight’s Children” will have a hard time attracting a larger, mainstream audience. Let us know what you think!