Four years ago, when I first saw the DVD cover for Millions—a boy with a smirk on his face, standing under a downpour of money falling from a starry sky—I was far from impressed. It looked like nothing more than a British version of Blank Check, where a cute little kid stumbles upon “millions” of dollars and blows it on fun stuff, like say a limousine service, go-kart track or waterslide. I wasn’t interested. But then below the title I read: “A New Film From The Imagination of Danny Boyle.” Knowing that this silly-looking movie was made by the same genius behind Trainspotting and 28 Days Later changed everything. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist renting it.
And I’m all the better for that decision. Because it turns out, Millions is not just all things opposite of those 1990s Disney clunkers, but it’s also one of the most Christian films I’ve ever seen. I use that label carefully, too (Christian). I’m very aware of the connotations surrounding it, and I don’t accept it as a genre. Plus, I have no evidence of Boyle’s allegiance to the Christian faith. The 2004 film, nevertheless, deserves such a description because of what that term means. From charity to simplicity, its many themes all point toward the joy and peace that come from following Christ.
The film centers on Damian Cunningham, a 7-year-old boy who is quite different than other kids his age. While his peers care about football (soccer for us Americans) and childish matters, Damian is obsessed with saints. He studies their biographies, communicates with them through his imagination and constantly shares their stories. In a scene early in the movie, he freaks out the kids in his class by retelling the bizarre story of a martyr’s decapitation.
After the death of his mother, Damian moves to the suburbs with his father, Ronnie, and brother, Anthony. He tries to move forward with life by escaping to a cardboard playhouse near a train track behind his house. While playing there one day, a duffle bag is thrown from a passing train and lands right on top of him. The bag is full of money—nearly a million pounds altogether. And in all his naivete, Damian immediately assumes it’s a gift straight from God.
That night during a neighborhood meeting, Damian hears three Mormon missionaries talk to his dad and others about building their community on foundations of rock instead of sand and the Christian principle of self-worth through God alone and not gods, such as money. Damian is more than inspired by this message, and a later meeting with Saint Peter only drives home the point with a stirring interpretation of the fish and loaves parable. So after splitting the money with Anthony, he begins to make the principle a reality, following words of the Mormons and the wisdom of the saints.
Against Anthony’s will, he starts by taking a few homeless people out for pizza, before moving on to other acts of kindness, such as leaving money on the doorstep of the Mormons’ house. But it isn’t until a humanitarian aid worker named Dorothy visits his school and lectures on the need for clean drinking water in Africa that Damian ultimately decides what he to do with the cash. And again, his motivation is validated by an imaginary rendezvous with saints: This time Ugandan martyrs, who blatantly tell Damian that their people need new wells, encouraging him to use the money for the very thing Dorothy discussed.
In the midst of this selflessness, Anthony serves as Damian’s foil. Just a few years older, Anthony has lost the same innocence, as he has no desire to help the needy with his sum of money. Instead, he spends it on himself. With new clothes and gadgets, Anthony becomes all about status: He has new friends surrounding him, girls after him and walks through the halls of his school with his head lifted high. Though, regardless of how content he may seem, we see right through it. His happiness is only temporary, while Damian’s is perpetual.
The same goes for their father. After finding out about the money, Ronnie denies any chance it could be from God and ignores the fact that it’s probably stolen. Like Anthony, he claims it as his own, hoping to spend it on himself—to buy things he doesn’t need.
It takes us back to what Damian heard the missionaries talking about the night he found the money: That joy and self-worth can only come from God, not riches. Wounded, mourning and searching for answers, Ronnie and Anthony attempt to fill their emptiness and pain with wealth because it’s the natural and convenient thing to do. On the other hand, Damian, who surely has his own flaws, exemplifies how such a void can only be reconciled through God’s love, finding peace among death and despair.
The message of Millions is twofold. On the surface, it promotes the general concept of love through charity—helping the poor and less fortunate—a concept Jesus both practiced and preached, summing up what He considered the most important commandment after loving His Father and calling out the religious people of His time for neglecting it. Looking deeper, though, Damian not only demonstrates how to mimic Christ, he also illustrates how a person can only experience true joy and contentment through such actions—obedience, selflessness—because ultimately how much we love others reflects on how much we really love God.
Needless to say, Millions concludes in probably the most perfect way possible. The characters are each, in some way, changed for the better because of the money, Damian’s big heart and humility, letting go of the past and discovering what matters today. And as for Damian, well, his dream of building a well in Africa finally comes true: magically and touchingly, we get to see the individual lives changed by his decision—how just a little clean water can completely transform a village.