Lion, based upon the non-fiction autobiography called A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, is a story of finding your identity, an identity that faded away when one was in the system as yet another lost child. Lost hundreds of miles from home, and after months of living in poverty and government shelters, Saroo was adopted by a couple in Australia. When he grew up, he became determined to locate his family in India, to find his way back home, to find his brother, Guddu. But what he really yearned to find was himself. Lion is a truly heart-breaking account of a serious issue that is plaguing India, lost children, and Saroo inspires many with his story and the journey he embarked upon to no longer be a lost child.
The film begins in India, a peek into the life of a young Saroo whose childhood was so poverty-stricken that he and his family would have to share the smallest pot of milk and be denied seconds. Played by Sunny Pawar, a little kid who has stolen everyone’s hearts with his strong performance and happy-go-lucky persona posing on red carpets, Saroo hails from a poor background, the middle of three children abandoned by their father, forced to suffer the unknown fate of each of their days. The malnourished class of rural India suffers a great deal; cramped living conditions, little or no money, limited food and water, and just about no rights at all. Director Garth Davis doesn’t hold back, or trivialise these highly prevalent issues in demonstrating the true story of the lost Saroo, a little boy who cannot remember where he is from and how to get back, and the people or system he relies on to help him are unable to do so. Why is that? Because the system is flawed, his village could not be located, nor his mother and family. These are the negatives surrounding India, and they are not sugarcoated for the benefit of the films international audiences. All countries have their problems, and their setbacks, and Davis displays that clearly in this film, but he doesn’t forget to inhibit the wonder of such a nation in its aesthetics.
You can still see the beauty within the simplicity of Rural India and its culture; there is no grandeur in their homes or richness in their clothes, but the people find majesty in what they have, they find enjoyment in leaves and sand rather than material possessions. The artistry of the film shows this kind of man-made, self-sought out wonder, especially with young Saroo becoming mesmerised by a field of butterflies or when he mimics a man eating soup with a spoon he finds while living on the streets. There is a plain truth to the poor/rich divide, and that comes out in the sweet and innocent persona of a child who has practically nothing, loses it in an instant and suddenly has everything, and that truth is that it only takes one person to move past the corruption and extend some help to those in need. This story is a true showcasing of courage, determination and pure love within a time of isolation and turmoil, and the film does justice to it by running the thread of hope deep within themes and imagery we are saddened and haunted by.
Dev Patel plays the older Saroo who travels along the Google earth images of India, retracing any steps he can remember, to locate his real family, to find the part of himself he has been lost to all these years. Nominated for all the major awards, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Patel gently drives his character to a point of almost no return after audiences see him in an array of emotions. Happy, sad, hopeful, distraught, angry, Saroo encapsulates all feelings, but remains grounded despite the probable reaction of loathing life and everything it has thrown in his lap. Patel brings a sense of realism to the role with his own background. His inability to speak the Hindi language, something the real-life Saroo forgot as he aged, works into his own grasp of the role and the non-Hindi speaking majority of the international audience are able to watch and experience with the character. Nicole Kidman, also critically acclaimed for her work in the film, embraced the role of the adoptive mother with a warm truth as she too has two children by adoption, correlating to her character. The bond lost between Saroo and his real mother, Fatima, was re-built between Kidman and Patel’s characters, a bond that wasn’t shaken or broken over time, nor was it forgotten after his pursuit of Fatima and his pre-lost child life. Lion does not only portray a bond between a person and his past, but also his present, that being the mother/son relationship, founded from the honourable, loving act of international adoption; giving a disadvantaged child a home.
The entirety of Lion felt like an immersive experience, we ran alongside young Saroo as he became lost, we travelled with him to Australia; we experienced everything as he did. By doing this, Davis allowed for Saroo Brierley’s story to remain hidden in the minds of Pawar and Patel as they enacted their roles as young and older Saroo – the audiences were not considered superior to the characters. Brierley’s A Long Way Home revealed itself page by page, just as a reader would experience and understand it, book in hand. We were watching a film, but we were also reading the story, not being told the story – the difference is key.
The ending is the pinnacle of the story, the moment Saroo had been waiting for, the discovery of his family’s fate since he became lost. The climatic point of the film is truly a beacon of answers at the end of a character journey darkened by enigma, and while I have been praising the film for its theme of hope and mode of inspiration, you must know how it ends by now. Saroo finds his mother; he reunites with the little village he grew up in, his sister, a country he felt disconnected from. The artistry imbued within the scenes filmed in India returns at the end where Saroo envisions his brother, Guddu, like a guardian angel taking him back home, and fulfilling the promise he couldn’t keep when he lost his little brother. The inspiration and hope behind Saroo Brierley’s story melded with the final moment of tragedy tells the audiences that the movies cannot always be a form of positive escapist art, and films are made to relay an important message to the world.
Lion encapsulates the positive and negative sides to the cruel game of life, where the themes and motifs of journey, identity, hope and inspiration can be used to educate the world on the act of saving a soul, no matter how it is done. The Brierley’s saved young Saroo through adoption, older Saroo saved himself through courage using the apparatus of Google Earth, and Guddu saved Saroo through whatever memories Saroo had left of him.