TL;DR – A beautiful story of loss, exploitation, grief, and trying to find out what home means, in the absence of any real information of where it could be.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
It might be one of those universal experiences, you’re walking through a shopping centre, theme park, city street, etc. with your parents and then you look up and realise you don’t know where they are. That feeling of being lost as a real and palpable fear and thankfully for most of us it short lived. However, this is not the case for Saroo, indeed for Saroo it was not a momentary fear, for him it was a life changing event. Lion tells the story of Saroo Brierley (Sunny Pawar & Dev Patel) who one day after working in rural India with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), joins him on a train ride to a nearby settlement so Guddu can find some night work for them to help their mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) who works as a labourer to make ends meet. Then Saroo ends up getting stuck on a train which is not going to the next station, but instead travelling 1500km to Calcutta, a place where no one speaks the same language, and as you are five years old as far as you know your mum’s name is ‘mum’. This is a heartbreaking tale of loss, exploitation, and the struggle to find what home means. Now due to the nature of the film, its structure and the very nature that it is based off a true story it becomes quite hard to talk about aspects of the film without discussing the second half of the film. So for this reason from here on into the end, a SPOILER warning is now in place.
When you are presenting someone’s real life on screen getting the casting right becomes so much more important, as you are not only trying to do the script justice, but these are real people’s lives and you don’t want to do a disservice to them as well. On top of this, a lot of the cast were young actors with very little experience, and all of this could be a recipe for disaster, however, they make it work. For someone so young it is amazing to see the sheer emotional range that Sunny Pawar brings playing the young Saroo. You feel the fear, the loss, the hope, and despair, his desperate attempts to get a ticket back to his home while no one can understand him was heart-breaking to see. This is continued with Dev Patel who plays an older Saroo who brings a joyful almost larrikin quality, but joyfulness is also a shield to protect himself from the despair within. Another standout performance has to be Nicole Kidman who gives a haunting performance as Sue Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive mother. You can feel she gives everything to the role from the way she so clearly articulates very complex emotions, that grief at losing your children, not because you need them in your lives but that you don’t want them to ruin their lives. It is a very complex performance, and Nicole Kidman nails it. While I have focused on these actors, Lion has an incredible supporting cast and everyone is bringing their a-game to support this film.
From a production standpoint, there were a number of small touches that really helped Lion shine. Firstly, well this is not a small thing, filming in both India and Hobart the locations from the real life story. Indeed, filming in India was not the easy option, and I’m sure at some point it was suggested that ‘can’t we just fake India on a set or dressing up a location’, but there was so much more authenticity filming it where it happened. As well as this, Lion does a great job of getting 1980s Hobart right and indeed 2010s Hobart, well to be fair not much had changed. Even down to the period displays of Google Earth, wow I can remember when that first came out, all of these small touches helps to locate the film in time and place. Also, I really liked that Lion knew when to add and when not to add subtitles, and indeed when to not have any accompanying music playing and just letting the sounds happening around Saroo speak for themselves. Both of these and other small touches helped heighten that feeling of despair of being lost in an unfamiliar place. From the locations, to the editing, to the soundtrack everything works together to really show off the story and the characters.
When looking back at the film there is one criticism I would make and that is in the second act. Now while it is clear what the filmmakers were doing was showing what Saroo’s state of mind was, and what was driving him to help find his home. However, this goes on for probably a bit too long, or as the elderly lady sitting in front of me so eloquently put it “There was a bit too much fartassing around with his girlfriend in the middle”. However, this is a small critique and from there we leave for a truly emotional ending to the film that left very few dry eyes in the cinema.
One of the reasons that Lion is so powerful is that it focuses on the exploitation of children, something that happens all over the world. Exploitation disproportionately affects children especially in countries with high levels of poverty. You see this from the moment Saroo leaves the train, when he escapes a group of men stealing children while the police look on doing nothing, or when after finding out his mother collected rocks and as such was not in a position to help him Noor (Tannishtha Chatterjee) pretends to befriend him bringing him home promising to help him find his family only to prepare him for someone else, even when finally in care of the government the exploitation continues. With regards to trafficking, which is just one form of exploitation, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked each year with most ending up in sexual exploitation or forced labour. If nothing else Lion helps shine a light on this horrific problem that affects every country in the world and is something that we must work on fixing.
So, in the end, can I recommend Lion, of course, I can, in fact, I highly recommend going to see Lion, it’s a beautiful story of loss and redemption, of fear and security, of exploitation and deliverance. It will have a profound effect on you and also hopefully on how you view the world around you, so if you can, you really should give Lion a watch.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Garth Davis
Screenplay by – Luke Davies
Based on – A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley & Larry Buttrose
Music by – Hauschka & Dustin O’Halloran
Cinematography by – Greig Fraser
Starring – Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Divian Ladwa, Deepti Naval & Tannishtha Chatterjee
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; NZ: PG; UK: PG; USA: PG-13