Directed by Garth Davis
Lion is very much a foreign film, but it's also very much a biopic and an adventure story. It pieces together elements from all over cinema and shows us something amazing. Lion is based on a true story, one of three in the Best Picture category, and is the one that feels the most honest. It’s a very personal story and though it doesn't have the spectacle, it is no less extraordinary.
The film starts in small village in India and follows two brothers as they help to provide for their mother. The two of them go out looking for work but the youngest of them, Saroo (Sunny Pawar), who’s maybe only ten years old, falls asleep in a train car only to wake up to see it carrying him thousands of miles away from his home. This first third of the movie is extremely harrowing. Watching as this young boy tries to find his way back home while trying to avoid all sorts of abuse. There’s a sense of impending doom that looms over this portion of the film. Almost a paranoia. It’s difficult to interpret the intentions of many of the adults but even if they were trying to help the film certainly does a good job of putting you in the mindset of a scared child.
Eventually Saroo finds himself in an orphanage surrounded by even more child abuse. The bad news just keeps coming though as he finds out that after an ad was placed in the newspaper no one had reached out for him. It’s hard not to have your heart broken at this point but thankfully the movie takes a turn away from the parade of sadness and lets in a little hope. Saroo is adopted by a family in Australia. Nicole Kidman plays his adopted mother and kills it in the role even with limited screen time. The film then jumps forward twenty years and becomes a completely different movie.
Dev Patel takes over in the role of adult Saroo as we just kind of watch him live his life for a while. I definitely felt a sense of relief at seeing him turn out ok after watching him struggle up until that point in the movie. Yet, much like Saroo himself, I was conflicted. You know his real family is still out there. Yes, he was provided with this extremely rare and amazing opportunity, but it came at a cost.
It’s not long until the driving force of the second half of the movie becomes clear. He yearns to find his family in India but he can't bare to let his adopted family know. He doesn't want them to think he’s ungrateful. This is a feeling he struggles with when it comes to his adopted brother Mantosh. Also from India, his brother suffers from mental illness that clearly put a strain on the family. This dynamic is only touched on a couple times during the film and I could have done with a bit more.
The film then takes another time jump. (Only a few months this time though) Saroo’s search for his Indian family has become an obsession and he’s pushed people away. He’s apparently been retracing the steps from the train station back to his original home in his sleep and contemplating his place in life. Dev Patel does a good job of staying grounded and not getting too caught up in cliche here. I feel for him. He feels stuck between two worlds.
Saroo eventually has a breakthrough in his research and finds the train station on Google Maps. Things start to move quickly after that. This is not a short movie and drawing out the conclusion would have been a mistake. Once he’s made the discovery he reveals what he was doing to his adopted parents. They have one of the most touching scenes in the movie together and she gives her blessing for him to track down his birth mom.
The finale is just as heartwarming as you might hope. To have Saroo reunited with his original mother followed by the footage from the real life people is emotionally devastating. In a good way. This movie is one of the few in the Best Picture race that have a clear cut happy ending and it's absolutely satisfying.
For More Oscar talk check out our Tower of Babble Podcast Oscar Preview Show.