Once, when I was about 4-years-old, I got up one morning at 6am, wandered across the street to a neighbor’s house, and sat in their backyard sandbox playing alone for roughly 2 hours. About 20 minutes after I’d started playing, I heard my mother calling for me.
I listened to her calls for an hour and a half before eventually deciding that I should probably head home. When I emerged from behind the house, on my front lawn were state police, my father who’d come home from work, my grandparents, and my mother in absolute shambles. I walked right up to her and, dropping to her knees, she asked, “Did you hear me calling you?”
I nodded. I don’t remember what happened after that because I’m pretty sure I got a well deserved clock cleaning.
Lion isn’t the story of some little digbat running off. It is far more profound. Living with his mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), sister, and Brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), in a dilapidated home in India, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and Guddu spend most days robbing coal trains to get food and milk for the family. When Guddu is set to leave for a few days for work, Saroo insists on joining him.
Reluctantly, Guddu decides to bring Saroo along on a long train ride. Upon arrival, Guddu attempts to wake his snoozing little brother to no avail. Telling him to wait right there, Guddu disappears into the darkness.
Stirring from his slumber some time later, Saroo realizes his brother is nowhere to be found. In his frightened state, he boards a nearby train and after calling for Guddu for probably as long as my mom called for me, he falls asleep and wakes to find the train moving and he is unable to get off.
Taken two days travel from where he last saw his brother, Saroo must now navigate back home in a place where he doesn’t speak the language and predators are lurking.
Eventually entered in a school for orphaned or even forgotten children, Saroo’s image is printed in a newspaper in an effort to help his family find him. While his mother and brother don’t locate him via the article, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, respectively), of Australia, see his story and adopt him.
Moving along 20 years, tormented by the thought of his mother and brother still looking for him, Saroo (played by Dev Patel as an adult) struggles to lead a normal 20-something existence. He finds work as a hotel manager, meets his girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara), there, and the two attempt to build a comfortable life around his constant longing to find home.
I was missing for two hours. To this day, I still feel terrible for what my family went through that day. To be lost for most of your life, unable to assure your own mother that you’re alright is an agony that I can only imagine.
This movie is sublimely well done. Based on ‘A Long Way Home: A Memoir’ written by Saroo himself, and adapted to screen by Luke Davies, Lion tells the story of the brave little boy who spent his life adrift. Directed by Garth Davis, the film illustrates the total destruction of a man in a perpetual state of unrest.
Done properly, the viewer is enveloped in the total breakdown of a character with genuine interest in their well-being. Lion executes this perfectly, giving the audience a glimpse at the pain experienced in going missing, the hesitant joy of finding people to love and care for you, and the exquisite sorrow lying just beneath the surface all along.
Not only is Lion poignant and divine in its direction and storytelling, but cinematographer Greig Fraser invites us into the picture, generously bringing our collective subconscious into his brilliant vision. His breathtaking views of little Saroo’s world lend to the magic being created through the lens. Coupled with Dustin O’Halloran’s riveting and — at times — energetically melancholy score, Lion is one of the best movies of 2016 by a landslide.
Lovely, endearing performances from Patel, Kidman, and Mara, but that little Sunny Pawar is just a gem; cripplingly adorable and a very fine actor.
A picture destined for many well deserved accolades, Lion needs to be seen. Thoroughly seen. I implore you — go see this movie.