FILM REVIEW: Lion

There’s a very fine line that we tread in life that divides two or more eventualities. Call it luck, call it fate, call it what you will, but we’re all only ever that fine line’s width away from a potentially life-changing event.

And so it proves to be in Garth Davis’s Lion. A profoundly moving film, based upon Luke Davies’s novel recounting the remarkable and heart-breaking true story of Saroo, a five-year old Indian boy from small town India.

Born into severe poverty, a young Saroo (an utterly endearing performance from Sunny Pawar), lives in a small hut with his mother, sister, and brother Guddu, with whom he hustles for any small scraps of opportunity that might aid his mother and help to supplement her meagre earnings as a manual labourer.

Times are indeed hard, but they are a close loving unit, and there is a strong bond between Saroo and his older brother who invariably takes him under his wing.

Saroo’s stubborn unwillingness to allow Guddu to head off in search of work one evening without him in tow, eventually sees the pair of them make the short train journey to a neighbouring town where Guddu leaves a tired Saroo to sleep on the platform bench whilst he goes off in search of work opportunities. Guddu promises to return as soon as possible, and is insistent that Saroo should not move from where he’s lying until he does.

When Guddu doesn’t return, Saroo decides to take shelter for the night in an empty train carriage, only to awaken some hours later aboard the same, now moving train, en route to Calcutta; a two day journey, far from his family, and into the unknown.

On arrival, scared, alone, confused and disorientated, Saroo remains oblivious to the fact that his life has just changed, inexorably, forever.

It’s hard to convey just how truly emotionally engaging the opening acts of Lion really are, and they must have presented the director with something of a dilemma as to how such engagement levels could be sustained, considering the film’s second section largely abandons the original cast members and setting, and introduces a now grown-up Saroo (Dev Patel), living an adopted life, far-removed from his roots.

Twenty-something Saroo, now living in Australia, is portrayed as a mature, stable young man, who has secured a place at university where he has found an intelligent and attractive girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara).

Saroo is the antithesis of his troubled brother, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa) – also adopted – and very much the pride and joy of his caring adoptive parents, John and Sue Brierley, (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman).

Little is made of the intervening years between the point of Saroo’s adoption and his departure for university. He is clearly a well-adjusted young man, seemingly at ease with his adopted lot in life and with who he’s become, but there is a deeply affecting scene in Garth Davis’s film in which Saroo is suddenly confronted by his past. A visual trigger throws him into something of a frozen trance-like state. Staring off into the middle distance, his mind is jolted back in time to a poignant moment from his youth that he’d shared with his brother. It’s a catalytic event, and one that has such a profound effect upon him that it re-awakens something deeply personal and deep-seated within him.

 

Whether Saroo’s  re-awakening happened in such a manner, or whether this moment is merely a convenient device with which to emphasise a point, is immaterial. Beyond doubt however is the fact that this rediscovered yearning for a forgotten family and past – something that he’d kept so well buried and confined to history for so long – was no fleeting infatuation. It came to overwhelm his every waking hour, jeopardising the life that he’d so ably built for himself, at least that is, until the adopted boy within him could finally find some kind of closure.

Lion is a devastatingly emotional piece. An extraordinarily tender and touching portrait of the plight of both a young boy, and a young man, and it’s testament to Garth Davis’ directorial skills that he somehow manages to successfully join the two chapters and prolong the film’s achingly wistful air and intensity, throughout. From abandoned Hindi-speaking youngster, desperately navigating the considerable perils of a homeless existence on the unforgiving streets of Bengali-speaking Calcutta – to the best of a five year old child’s ability, at least – to a fully-grown man; the adopted son of loving parents, who would do anything for him, yet can never compensate for a tragic past that seems destined to forever eat away at Saroo.

Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel are both magnificent portraying both younger and older Saroo, whilst Nicole Kidman is completely convincing portraying his sweet, caring and compassionate mother, beautifully. Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran’s accompanying score is both rich and powerful, yet understated enough so as not to over-kill the film’s highly emotive, yet subtle direction.

Not even the rather cynical, suspiciously omnipresent product-placement for the wonders of Google Earth can detract from what is in its very essence, a beautiful, unashamed tearjerker that, unless you are very much dead inside, will pull relentlessly at your heart strings.

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