This is an unexpectedly beautiful and thought-provoking film based on the true story of five-year-old Indian boy, Saroo, who becomes separated from his family. He is lost amongst the millions, one of 80,000 Indian children who go missing every year, and it is a 25 year journey before he has the chance to reconnect with his home.
Saroo is from a poor family. His mother is a labourer and Saroo and his elder brother Guddu scavenge, steal and look for work to give them all enough food to get from day to day. Accidentally falling asleep one night on a decommissioned train, Saroo is separated from Guddu and wakes to find himself alone and hurtling across the sub-continent. When he can finally disembark, he is 1600km from home, unable to speak the language (Bengali) and ignorant of his mother’s name or where he comes from.
Eventually adopted by a white Australian couple, Saroo grows up in Tasmania. In his twenties, with the help of Google Earth, he begins the search for his home village, clutching to the few memories he has of the railway station and his home.
It would have been tempting to turn this introspective story into an overly dramatic, plot-driven road movie that focusses on the ‘will he, won’t he’ suspense of Saroo’s search. Instead we take a leisurely journey, lingering on the feeling of being lost and alone, the vulnerability of children and devastating effects of exploitation. The first part of the film is set in India and is almost dialogue-free as young Saroo learns to survive. The cinematography, as evidenced by the image above, is beautiful, making much of the light and colour of India without flinching from the dirt and decay of poverty.
The rest of the film explores the experiences of Saroo and his adoptive brother Mantosh in Australia, as they adapt to and struggle in their new life. We see the unique challenges faced by families where a child has suffered trauma and the scars that can’t be healed. For Saroo, he is displaced from a culture that he barely remembers and it is a reconnection with his Indian-ness that awakens a yearning for his past. Like La La Land, that explores the seductive pull of nostalgia, Lion shows the difficulty of letting go of a past the we feel in some way defines us.
Nicole Kidman and David Wenham do a serviceable job as Susan and John Brierley, Saroo’s new parents, with Kidman in particular showing the resolute will and emotional scars of any parent who raises a traumatised child. Dev Patel as adult Saroo and Sunny Pawar as young Saroo are the standouts, lighting up the screen and competently and seamlessly carrying the weight of the narrative.
This is not a sad film, per se, but it will make you cry happy tears.
In cinemas now.
Bechdel test – fail