When Fantasy, Fortune and Blessing Meet
On a brilliant summer day in the north of England, two young lads race across a field that will soon become a housing development. As they roll in the grass, they imagine what their new home will be like, for the Cunningham family is moving. The boys’ mother, Maureen (Jane Horgath), has died, and their dad, Ronnie, (James Nesbitt) wants to move them from the city to get on with their lives.
When moving day arrives, seven-year old Damien (Alex Etel) collects the packing boxes from all the new appliances and carries them off to build his own cardboard house near the train tracks. Damien talks to his friends, the saints, who appear to him. He always asks them if they have met his mom, St. Maureen.
One day as he is playing, a large duffle bag crashes into his cardboard dwelling. It is full of money (British pounds). Damien thinks it is a gift from God. He runs to tell his older brother, nine-year old Anthony (Lewis McGibbon). They think the bag holds millions, but it’s more like a few hundred thousand pounds. Damien wants to tell their dad, but Anthony, the shrewd junior economist, insists that they hide it. Little by little, Anthony spends it on cell phones and the like, but Damien wants to give it away to help the poor because he is convinced that God sent the money. He stuffs it in the mail box of some young missionary Mormons who live nearby and he takes homeless people to a restaurant to feed them, much to Anthony’s chagrin. There are only afew days for the boys to dispose of the money before the country changes over to the Euro standard.
Damien’s saints continue to visit him. One day he sees a large group of African men working and he realizes they are the 45 Ugandan Martyrs (dd.1885-1887). One of them tells Damien they don’t want all the things that money can buy, just a little bit so they can have a well. Pure, clean water is their most precious treasure and greatest need.
As Christmas draws closer, a young woman named Dorothy (Daisy Donovan) comes to the children’s school, All Saints, to collect coins from the out-going currency to help the poor in developing countries dig wells. Damien is inspired by Dorothy and drops a thousand pounds into the bin. The boys’ secret is out and their dad is called in for a conference.
Meanwhile, a menacing stranger visits Damien in his hut, looking for the money, the saints continue to reinforce Damien’s faith and generosity, and as the currency deadline looms, things get very complicated indeed.
The most original aspect of Millions is the litany of saints who appear to Damien, from St. Peter (“First century but date of death unknown”), to St. Nicholas of Smyrna, to St. Francis and St. Clare (who tells us how she came to be the patroness of television), to the Ugandan Martyrs who were canonized in 1964 – and some others in between.
Damien has an encyclopedic familiarity with the lives of the saints and a teacher helps the school children think of contemporary heroes who are helping people today, such as Nelson Mandela. This link between the past and the future is an important theme in the film as Damien tries to do what he thinks God wants with the money.
The Beatitudes and Social Action
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in The Cost of Discipleship (1937) that the Beatitudes (Mt 5: 3-12) only make sense when considered as a response to the call to follow Christ. In Millions, Damien seems to have an innate sense of the call by God to help the poor. He believes that the appearance of the money is a miracle to help the poor, not to squander. “Are you poor?” he asks people over and over and gives them money for food and necessities. Of course, a lot of the humor in the film comes from Damien’s innocent lack of awareness of adult double-speak, but he doesn’t care. He only wants to help others.
It is in the realm of the spiritual that Damien tries to make sense of his mother’s death and the seeming miraculous appearance of the money – delivered directly to him. He can only understand these events when he connects them to realities that only he can see and we can imagine.
Millions is a film about childhood, family, the commandments and beatitudes, social awareness, character, holiness, loss, grief, and belief in life after death, as God has promised.
The dominant biblical and sacramental sign in the film is of water, the joyous source of life. Millions is clearly drawing our attention to the need for clean water for the world’s poorest people today by showcasing an organization: Water Aid (www.wateraid.org.uk). This is a new take on product placement, one that can influence people positively - to think locally and act globally to promote ecology for the benefit of the human family.
In addition to the Beatitudes there is another Gospel passage that Millions evokes to bring us along in our Lenten journey:
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:12