It can be very difficult to connect on the most basic and personal level with what it is like to go through a traumatic event such as a terrorist attack. Even considering the unfortunate and awful frequency with which they occur, most people have not had to endure such a nightmare. We can read an article or see on the news that hundreds of people were killed or injured, but when the number climbs that high, it becomes just that – a number. It doesn’t register that every single person included in that giant number is a living, breathing person with their own joys and worries. It can’t register the way that all of these families, friends, and societies are forever altered by these unspeakable tragedies.
While everyone can deeply hope that they never have to be put in that position, understanding what others have gone through is extremely helpful when it comes to having empathy for these people and their families. Hotel Mumbai puts you in this position. It makes you feel as if you are one of the people who was in the Taj Mahal hotel on November 26, 2008, when four terrorists were killing every innocent person they could see.
This film attempts to give you a taste for what it is like in this situation. It is visceral, horrific, and powerful. The film spends some time with the terrorists, but it never makes it clear what their exact motivation is for carrying out a massacre of this scale. And I think that is intentional. In a terrorist situation such as this, most times, the people on the wrong end of it have no idea what is going on or why it is happening. So as we are being placed in the shoes of the victim, we also don’t know why exactly these people are doing what they are doing. The only things these victims could do was worry, wonder, and be terrified.
And that is what makes this film so horrific. On par with any horror movie in terms of how scared you will be while watching it, this movie shows how heartless and cold humans can be to each other. This film does not shy away from the fact that it is a religiously-fueled attack, but it also doesn’t take the heavy-handed approach of decrying any specific faith. It instead focuses on the human empathy aspect of the story. Not since Dunkirk have I felt so much as if I was in the place of the characters on screen.
And this film may do it better than Dunkirk.
Unlike watching a film about soldiers in World War II, this is something that is still happening way too regularly today. It is the kind of thing where we need to be shown what it is like to find yourself in this position, or else any possibility of empathy will be gone. Hotel Mumbai demonstrates the power of film. as difficult as it is to watch and endure – there is violence and disturbing content – it is important because it brings awareness.
The film also shows the ability and power of the human spirit. Dozens and dozens of people put the lives of others ahead of their own lives because they realize the inherent and basic value of life that their attackers are trying to trivialize. They see the importance of being there for your fellow human being, simply because we are all human. It’s a powerful message in a powerful film. This is what cinema can and should be.