Some stories are just too touching to not share, and the story of Saroo Brierley is one of the more inspiring. It was only a matter of time before his story was brought to the screen, the result may not be the most notable or prominent film, but for what it makes up for in subtlety, Lion makes up for in quiet passion and pure emotional resonance, and it hits you like a total ton of bricks by the time the film takes it final bow. In short, Lion is one of the more moving films I’ve seen recently, and it truly touched me.
The film is based on A Long Way Home, the memoir by Saroo Brierley, and is set in two different time periods – in 1986 in rural India, and in 2010, in Tasmania, Australia. The film follows Saroo at two different stages of his life – as a poor five-year old boy (Sunny Pawar) who works tirelessly to help his mother and brother provide for their extremely poor family, and as a twenty-something entrepreneur (Dev Patel) who lives a priviledged life in Australia.
After getting lost as a young boy, Saroo found himself drifting across Calcutta, looking for his home, before finally being sent to an orphanage and adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), who adore their newest addition to their family – and while he is appreciative of his adoptive parents, Saroo longs to return home to give his family closure that he is safe, and that he hasn’t stopped thinking about them for the twenty-five years that he has been lost. Using the wonders of the internet, and with the help of his friends and girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), Saroo manages to do the impossible and find his mother and give her the closure she so deeply deserved.
Here’s the thing about Lion – it is not a film that is noticed. It is a film that is made, and a very small group of people actually pay enough attention to it to watch it. The fact that it was seen by the right people and received critical acclaim and various accolades from awards bodies only helped to make Lion a film that more people noticed. It is a very unassuming, very simple film with a touching story at its core. Its not a film that begs to be seen by being flashy and showy, and even though it is a truly wonderful film, it just doesn’t try to grab your attention through cliche or obvious marketing, because that would defeat the entire purpose of this film and its meaning. In fact, a film like Lion is almost expected to resort to cliche, and even if it may appear as if it may approach the region of cliche at various points, it swiftly moves the other way and rather chooses to be honest and realistic. To be perfectly clear, if there is one aspect of Lion that is better than most films I’ve seen recently, it is that it doesn’t try too hard – it relies on its simple but moving story, and allows the audience to connect with the story rather than just telling us how to feel. That is something that Lion does incredibly well, and why it is such a lovely film.
Much like Moonlight, Lion tells the story of one individual at different points of his life as he goes searching for something deeper to his existence. Lion utilizes two incredible performances from two wonderful actors. The younger Saroo is played by Sunny Pawar, who undoubtedly wins the award for most adorable actor of the year. There is so much about Pawar to love, mostly because his performance is a contradiction – despite being a minuscule, petite individual, he makes up for his stature in his electric attitude and the adorable humour and incredible humanity he brings to the role. Getting a great performance out a child is sometimes very tricky, and when you have a performance like Pawar, which mostly relies on him acting by himself or with other children, it becomes very impressive. I believe Pawar should receive a lot of praise for the fact that he carried over half of this film on his own shoulders, and gave this film its emotional heft. Dev Patel has also never been better, and in playing the older Saroo, brings fury and passion to the film, and we feel every moment of Saroo’s desperation in his search for answers, shown through Patel’s fiery and deeply humane portrayal of a man just looking for answers. Both actors give very different, but equally excellent, performances, and should be praised for their wonderful work.
Nicole Kidman is also in Lion, and watching this film, I realized something – there is a reason why Kidman is one of the most adored actresses of all time – she is a true force to be reckoned with in any role. However, I did realize something else – while I do genuinely believe she is a bona fide movie star, and she is one of the main reasons why I believe that there are great roles for women of all ages in cinema, I do think there is something very appealing about Kidman’s more recent acting choices, such as in Lion. I do think she is a great and very popular actress, but something tells me that her next step in her career is to slightly step away from that movie star status and enter into the next logical step in her career, as a very interesting character actress. This isn’t to imply that someone like Kidman can’t be a movie star – but I have found myself captivated by her performances in films like Lion, The Paperboy, Stoker and Paddington, where she plays roles out of the spotlight, but no less favorable to showing off her incredible acting talent. Kidman is a great actress, but her recent choices of more interest character roles has shown another side to Kidman.
However, while we are talking about character actresses, we also have to acknowledge Rooney Mara, who has built her entire career on being a young but consistently excellent character actress, and while her role as Lucy in Lion may not be her greatest work, she is a welcome presence, and her small but meaningful performance here is just lovely and she brings some necessary emotional heft to an otherwise forgettable character. The entire cast is very strong, but the standout is undoubtedly Pawar, who I hope continues to act, because he has a truly unique presence that would be valuable in any film.
Lion is an excellent film. It may not be the most captivating film on the surface, but once you are fully invested in this story, it is a pretty incredible story. The performances are great, and the film is brilliantly written. It is the film the story of Saroo Brierley deserves, and once this film ends, you feel like you’ve been hit with pure emotion, several times over. Lion is an unforgettable, beautifully crafted film about seeking meaning and the true resilience that comes with finding answers to life’s most important questions. Its a great film and I urge everyone to see it, because it is wonderful in so many ways.