Garth Davis’s Lion, simply by the nature of its true origins, is both heartwarming and heart wrenching. Yet this doesn’t completely excuse some faults in the rendering of its tale. It tells the incredible story of Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year old boy circa 1986 in a poor Indian village who becomes separated from his mother (Divian Ladwa) and older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) one fateful evening.
The lost journey leads the child many miles away in Calcutta where Saroo is placed in an orphanage that is more like a prison. He doesn’t know the language of the new land he’s stranded in and knows his mother only as “mum”. One of the amazing realizations while viewing Lion is the remembrance of lack of technology in the 1980s that basically made it impossible for Saroo to be reunified with his family.
While Calcutta couldn’t be more of a foreign land to him, he’s soon taken to a much more faraway land in Australia when a kind couple (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) adopt him. They treat him well and he’s a good kid, which isn’t the case with the troubled second child they adopt a year after Saroo.
The film eventually flashes forward to 20 years later and Saroo is now played by Dev Patel. In his late 20s, he still resides in Australia and is embarking on a career in hotel management. Lucy (Rooney Mara) is his American girlfriend. He’s still close with his adoptive parents (though not without some complications) and there’s still issues with his younger brother. The memories of his former life still consume him, however. A chance suggestion of Google Earth now having the ability to possibly locate his Indian village feeds his obsession.
Thus begins Saroo’s journey home. While he focuses myopically on finding his long-lost mother and brother, it has dramatic consequences with the current individuals in his life. Lion‘s plot is inherently fascinating. The screenplay by Luke Davies succeeds better in exploring some relationships than others. Saroo and Lucy’s is rather uninteresting, while his dynamic with Kidman provides some fine moments. Kidman’s mother is complicated and caring and the actress gives a touching performance. The same can be said for both versions of Saroo with Patel and Pawar.
When Lion reaches its conclusion with a moment we’ve been pining for, it is powerful and includes some unexpected revelations. An epilogue left me curious as to whether a documentary about the subjects may have been more potent. The answer is probably yes, but the picture does a competent and admirable job of telling a remarkable story.
*** (out of four)