By Alexia Evripidou
Like its namesake, Lion is a gorgeous beast of a film – fierce, beautiful, elegant and incredibly powerful. Lion digs its claws into you from the offset and won’t let go till its two hour play time finishes. Granted, it does take some pressure off midway but it still maintains strong connection. With talented performances, inspirational soundtrack and breathtaking visual imagery, the film will weave in and out of your consciousness way after the credits stop rolling.
The story, based on Saroo Brierley’s autobiography A Long Way Home, is an emotional journey for on screen characters and audience alike. Lion is Saroo’s own story, that of an Indian boy who got lost on a train which took him thousands of miles across India at the age of five, taking him away from home and family. Coming from a poor, single parent family, he’d help his older brother scavenge food to help feed themselves. Lost, scared, hungry and surrounded by a sea of nameless strangers, the young Saroo spends months living rough while trying to find his way back home.
He learns how to survive on the streets of Kolkata until a kind young man finds him and takes him to an orphanage from where he’s adopted by an Australian couple. And what a stunning performance by the young Sunny Pawar, a talented show of the real Saroo’s resourcefulness and determination at such a tender age. Twenty five years later, with Saroo’s (now played by Dev Patel) roots still calling him and after much strife, he eventually identifies where he originated from with the help of Google Earth and sets out to find his Indian family.
Lion is beautifully made and a pleasure to get lost in. However despite its beauty it is not always an easy watch; the subject matter is very real and sad, yet it’s handled with delicate artistry and great warmth. Lion is relatable; it’s about something that everyone everywhere can connect with; family and identity. It’s about cruelty, being lost, life’s hardships and the flip side: kindness, beauty, determination, faith and love. Although the film tackles deep subject matters, encapsulating all the senses, it is overall uplifting, without somehow devaluing the material, instead, portraying harsh realities with respect and heartening depictions of humanity.
Without giving much away, as it’s a simple but effective plot, the film takes us through Saroo’s life as he grapples with the burning question of ‘Who am I?’, only in his case, it’s not existential in nature but legitimate. His relationships suffer as he tries to protect others during his quest, especially his relationship with himself, but with the assistance of modern technology he figures the geography out and heads back to India to meet his family with happiness and pain. Although the second half of Saroo’s Australian journey is less gripping than his India stories, it’s by no means of less value; it’s a softer filmic pace but with equal gravitas on different struggles.
The film captures the stark contrast between slums, child homelessness and poverty in India with the ‘privileged life’ of Tasmania with a soft quality that does not deter from the harshness or heart of this drama. The landscape visuals are ace and although they are typical cinematic portrayals of India, they’ve successfully stayed clear from clichéd potholes, which is incredible considering they consist of people washing and bathing in the Ganges River, funeral processions and overcrowded train stations etc. Still with clever choices in camera angles, lighting and precisely chosen moments, the images feel real, raw and new; undoubtedly the magical score helps to absorb what we see in a palatable fashion.
This is Australian director Garth Davis’ feature debut and evolves naturally as it swaps stories between young and older Saroo believably. I found myself, which I rarely do, feeling empathy and connection with all of the characters. No one is really a lead here, rather all support the story and each other’s journey. Patel most certainly impressed as an actor but also Nicole Kidman, who played his adoptive mother, gave many inspiring and yet earthy moments. Her performance during one painful family dinner scene is superb.
So it comes as no surprise that Lion has been nominated for several Oscar awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Dev Patel and Supporting Actress for Nicole Kidman. It is proud and memorable and a big league contender with a huge heart and soul.
DIRECTED BY Garth Davis
STARRING Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
US 2017 118 mins