Although “Lion” did not win any of the six Oscars for which it was nominated, the film still carries an incredible emotional power.
Directed by Garth Davis and written by Luke Davies, “Lion” is based on the nonfiction book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose. It received academy nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman) and Best Adapted Screenplay, but won none.
“Lion” is a true story about a young Indian boy named Saroo, played by Patel, who ends up thousands of miles from home. His long journey starts when he decides to go with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to a job. At the train station, Saroo stays behind to take a nap on one of the benches. When he wakes up, his brother is nowhere to be found. Saroo looks for him and boards a train, thinking Guddu might be on it. Saroo falls asleep again and wakes up to the moving train. It arrives in Calcutta, thousands of miles away from his home. He is unable to communicate with anyone since he speaks Hindi, and the local language is Bengali. In the span of a few months, he survives on his own, but then is put into an orphanage. He is eventually taken under the care of an Australian family.
Two decades later, he is a happy young man, moving to Melbourne to study hotel management. Coming across a food from his childhood, emotions emerge. His friends tell him to search for his home and so he does. He starts a long process, searching for his hometown on Google Earth, and his living room becomes consumed by the materials for the quest. His relationship with his girlfriend deteriorates, he quits his job and all the while his adoptive mother struggles with her health. One night, on the edge of giving up, he scrolls along a similar mountainous area and finds his town, Ganesh Talai.
Initially, the film felt all too similar to “Slum Dog Millionaire,” in which Patel also stars. The early sequences with Saroo and his brother robbing the train felt like the “Slum Dog” scenes when Jamal Malik and his brother, Salim, were on top of the trains with M.I.A’s “Paper Planes” playing. But “Lion” evolves into more.
Patel, mature-looking and with a little more muscle, takes control in the second act of the film with some fantastic acting. He is perfect with his developed Australian accent and not to mention carries some long black hair. Patel grabs the audience with the emotions he feels for his lost family. The shift to the older Saroo could have happened earlier, as there was too much time spent on younger Saroo’s survival in Calcutta. Although there were some marvelous shots of India and the continuity editing within those scenes flowed effortlessly, it was too long. There were far shots as well as others in which young Saroo ran across the street, encapturing how small he was, lost in the giant city of Calcutta.
“Lion” was able to grab the audience emotionally in so many ways. Not only is it a long, unbelievable story, but the people in Saroo’s life carry this emotion. His adoptive mother, Sue, played by Kidman, gives all her love to him; adopting an Indian boy was a vision she had as a girl. She tells Saroo that it was not because she was infertile but that her vision drove her to help others. Kidman comes off as slightly over the top at times, but the film is no doubt a great comeback for her. What touches the audience even more is the climactic ending. It is no coincidence that Saroo’s name, which actually is supposed to be Sheru, meaning “lion,” is the courageous animal he embodies in his long journey home.