“Lion” is an electrifying journey that creates a vast emotional scope on screen and undoubtedly, an abundance of tears that will be hard to hide from your neighbor.
As its name implies, “Lion,” is a dramatic and extraordinarily powerful film, now having been nominated for six Academy Awards. Directed by Garth Davis, “Lion” tells the incredible true story of five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) who, after being accidentally separated from his family in one of the world’s busiest cities, Kolkata, India, ends up over 1,000 miles away from where he is later adopted by a loving couple in Australia. Two decades later and without even a last name to base his search on, his adulthood quest to discover his identity fuels an emotionally urgent and spiritual search for his true home.
Based on the story A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, the film immediately tugs at our heartstrings by introducing us to young Saroo, played by newcomer Sunny Pawar, whose innocence and curiosity of the world bursts out of his large doe eyes and small frame. After falling asleep on a moving train and traveling for an undocumented amount of time and distance, Saroo becomes a little boy lost in translation and environment who must survive in the threatening adult world amidst his confusion and isolation.
Saroo’s fate is changed when he falls into the care of an orphanage and is quickly adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham). Years pass and Saroo, now in his late twenties (Dev Patel), is fully settled into life in Australia, taking college courses and in a steady relationship with Lucy (Rooney Mara). One night, sparked by a sudden and vivid flashback, Saroo decides that, with the help of Google Earth and only a handful of memories, he is ready to give all he has to find his childhood home and birth mother, some twenty-five years later.
In both instances, we feel the fevered and urgent energy pulsing from Saroo and the environments themselves, leading to a gripping climax and heart-filling ending.
Dev Patel’s Best Supporting Actor nomination is fully deserved in this role, as he brings the emotional crossroads that Saroo faces to life in an extraordinarily measured performance. The complex emotions he balances of desperately wanting to find his birth family without wanting to hurt the feelings of his adoptive parents’ tip over when he can no longer hide his longing for answers to the life he once lived. Patel’s portrayal of battling this personally felt and complex family dynamic is resilient, industrious, and confident – his story is a true hero’s journey.
The world from five-year-old Saroo’s perspective is a big, scary place, and cinematographer Greig Fraser knows how to portray the feeling of being a small person in a big, overwhelming world, and in a very intimate way. Fraser, who had been working on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” simultaneous to “Lion,” uses his experience in the Star Wars universe to epically convey the feeling of a (no pun intended) “force” bigger than oneself. In the first half of the film, five-year-old Saroo is physically lost among the colorful and crowded streets of India. Yet in the second half, a now older Saroo is emotionally lost, facing an identity-less and hopeless future that becomes the bleaker part of the film. In both instances, we feel the fevered and urgent energy pulsing from Saroo and the environments themselves, leading to a gripping climax and heart-filling ending.
“Lion” has all of the things that make up a great film: a phenomenal cast coupled with an impactful true story that leaves one with an optimistic outlook on life. While it’s emotional yearning can play a bit heavy-handed at times, “Lion” is an electrifying journey that creates a vast emotional scope on screen and undoubtedly, an abundance of tears that will be hard to hide from your neighbor. Yes, I admit, I’m speaking from experience.
“Lion” is rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sensuality. 118 minutes. Now playing in theaters.