Lion stretches the primal desire to search for one’s own house on Google Maps to epic proportions in this tale of a young man, Saroo (Dev Patel), and his quest to find the rural Indian village where he was born, using only a laptop and a handful of hazy memories.
This extraordinary real-life story depicts every child’s worst nightmare when five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets lost and becomes separated from his family by hundreds of miles. Unable to correctly recall the name of his home town or what he himself is called, he resorts to living rough on the streets of Calcutta before being taken to an orphanage where his is eventually adopted by an Australian couple.
The first half of the movie is animated by the adorable Sunny Pawar, who, although only eight years old, manages to bring complexity to the role through a combination of rambunctious spirit and astute vulnerability. Through Saroo’s trials and tribulations the audience is subjected to the heartbreaking reality of the country’s street children as the film hints at less happy endings for many of the estimated 80,000 youngsters who are simply “lost” in India each year.
There are times when the narrative could veer into “white saviour” territory, but Lion consciously raises questions about privilege and, ultimately, the tender relationship between Saroo and his adoptive parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) stands out as being genuine. Director Garth Davis does a wonderful job of navigating the protagonist’s emotional state as he is torn between two mothers, with memories of one compelling him to leave, and the love of another preventing him from doing so.
The cinematography is superb, particularly in creating a sense of young Saroo being small and tragically lost during the first hour of the film. Memory is constructed carefully throughout, with sweeping bird’s-eye views of the Indian landscape in the opening scenes creating a parallel with the grainy satellite images from Google Earth that are frequent later on.
Lion joins a long tradition of movies that ruminate on the meaning of home and the lengths we’ll go to to get back there, but, equally, it’s an immigration story that tells a tale of conflicting identities in the face of cultural assimilation. The feature is extraordinarily moving and succeeds throughout in sweeping the audience into it’s world in a way that is emotionally charged and powerful, without being overly sentimental or dramatic.
Tarn Rodgers Johns
Lion is released nationwide on 20th January 2017.
Watch the trailer for Lion here: