Starring Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, David Wenham, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Pallavi Sharda and Eamon Farren.
Screenplay by Luke Davies.
Directed by Garth Davis.
Distributed by The Weinstein Company. 121 minutes. Rated PG-13.
A few months ago, when I asked Oscar-nominated screenwriter Luke Davies what it was about the true-life story of Saroo Brierly which intrigued him enough to write the screenplay to Lion, his answer was concise.
“The simple answer is, it felt like an incredibly simple, but powerful, fairytale,” Davies explained. “It felt like a really ancient myth from the dawns of time, and yet it was so modern. It was like a modern myth, because it had this technological aspect. Basically, this story could never have happened before ten years ago. He could not have found home the way he did before Google Earth was released ten years ago.”
It is true. Lion as a film is an odd mixture of throwback and state-of-the-art, and it works surprisingly well on both levels. Based on the true-life story of an Indian boy who got irretrievably lost from his family at five years old and spends the next 25 years searching for his home, Lion is bittersweet, heartbreaking and eventually a tale of family, love and redemption. The fact that he had to move to another continent and eventually to happen upon his former neighborhood on Google Earth when he was a young man just makes the story all that much more intriguing and magic.
For the first hour or so, we follow Saroo as a young boy (played by Sunny Pawar at five). He lives with his mother, older brother and younger sister. He loves his mother and idolizes his brother. One night, when the older brother sneaks off in the night to make some money, Saroo tags along. They take a train to a local city where the brother goes looking for work. Saroo falls asleep while waiting for him, and when Saroo awakes the station is empty and his brother is nowhere in sight.
Saroo starts searching the station looking for his brother. He eventually falls asleep on a stopped train. When he awakens, the train is empty and moving further and further away from his home. Because no one is on the train, it never stops for Saroo to get off. Even if it did, he has no idea where he is. When it finally hits the end of the line in Calcutta, Saroo has been riding for days and is 1600 kms (about 1000 miles) from his home. No one has ever heard of his hometown (as a small child, he is mispronouncing the city’s name) or will help him find his home. He braves the streets of Calcutta, where he eventually is taking to an orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham).
Flash forward 20 years, Saroo has grown up (he is now played by Dev Patel), is in college, loves his parents and his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), but he is still obsessed with his home and original family. He has been trying for years to track them down, feeling anguished and guilty that his real mother, brother and sister don’t even know he is alive. He obsessively flicks through different areas on Google Earth, searching for a needle in a haystack – the small town in India where he grew up.
What really makes Lion fascinating, whether or not he ends up finding his home – and I’m sure you can take a good guess at whether it happens even if you weren’t previously familiar with the story – is the journey. The sense of loss and the desperate need to make things right again pervade the film.
To be completely honest, the scenes of Saroo at five are more dramatic than the ones of him as a young man. However, in the end the story comes together in such a sweet and poignant manner that you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted indeed for Lion not to move you.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 10, 2017.