1986: Saroo (Sunny Pawar) was a five-year-old boy born to a poor but content family in rural India. On a trip with his older brother, Saroo finds himself trapped in a moving passenger train that takes him to Calcutta, over one thousand miles away from home. Alone in an alien environment and too young to make any sense to the authorities, he struggles to survive as a street child. After a number of events, he finds himself in Tasmania where he has been adopted by an Australian couple, John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman).
Regardless of his good fortune, an older Saroo (Dev Patel) is in an identity crisis and longs to see his birth family again, as he has no idea who he is. He is haunted by the memories of losing his birth family and longs to search of them, even with the guilt motivating him to hide the truth from his adoptive parents and his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). Only when he has a magical epiphany, he realizes he had the answers all along yet he hopelessly underestimated his family who will support him in anything he chooses to do.
Lion is a journey that grabs your mind, body and soul, whether you like it or not. You are immersed in every single scene, especially the ones with a young Saroo as a street child. Those scenes are depicted with such a realism yet third-world child poverty can never be done justice on film. For me, this scene was even more harrowing after I had witnessed it first-hand on my venture to India last summer. To call the scenes in India brutal, sad and soul-destroying do not even begin to describe the monstrosity of poverty in the third world.
Like our protagonist, audiences may find themselves having flashbacks of the past you thought had forgotten. This film is one person’s quest for home. It’s a journey filled with emotions, hard decisions and testing relationships. At its core, it’s a simple story but it says so much. In a nut shell, less is more and I think those are the best kinds of stories. The narrative’s simplicity is made even better with the excellent performances from the ensemble cast that includes: Nicole Kidman (Paddington), David Wenham (Top Of The Lake), Rooney Mara (Carol) and our main character Saroo, played by Dev Patel (The Man Who Knew Infinity).
This movie explores some interesting themes, like what happens to children in developing countries such as India; a country that is renowned for its institutional corruption as seen in the film. How do the impoverished and illiterate people of a country find lost children? Who helps them? Often, in most cases, nobody helps them and they’re frequently seen as nuisance hence why there are thousands of homeless children on the streets of India. It also pushes questions like, how do broken children adapt to new surroundings in places where they don’t even know the language? Do children recover from these experiences? Lion promotes questions and these question are not open-ended and are difficult to answer.
Lion is gripping from start to finish and I was utterly hooked from the beginning. In my opinion, what may push people over the edge is the musical score. It’s beautifully composed and it’s in perfect harmony with the powerful images. I really can’t find any issues with this film whatsoever. It’s truly captivating and makes you appreciate everything you have. In the West, in the First World, we are very lucky to have most things on our doorstep and films like this show us that we shouldn’t take things for granted. To have unlimited access to food, shelter and education is a basic thing in Europe and the US but on the other side of the world, it’s another thing entirely.
From the cinematography to the musical score to the acting performances and the storyline, Lion is certainly one to watch out for in the awards season. It’s a dark horse and the more Oscar-tipped movies I watch, the more I see how fierce the competition is. Lion will be in a for a fierce fight, that much is certain.