Film review: Lion

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Lion, based on a true story, is one of those films where you know exactly what happens before you start watching, but still feel teary at the end, as if you didn’t quite expect it to work out that way. The trailers give you the bones of the plot, which the film fully fleshes out. You know what to expect when you enter the cinema, but seeing it still tugs at the heart strings.

Lion follows the journey of a young boy called Saroo, who falls sleep on a train one night and wakes up to find it moving. After being trapped on this train for two days, he finally escapes, but finds himself far from home, with no idea how to get back. This narrative takes up the first portion of the film, and whilst it may seem a little slow, every moment is important in showing the struggles Saroo experiences and the family he longs to get back to. Thrust into an unforgiving India, it seems no one is willing to help Saroo, which isn’t helped by the language difference, with Saroo only understanding Hindi.

The film displays the perils Saroo faced in his attempt to get home, living on the streets and barely surviving, the risk of child trafficking and starvation just around the corner. Whilst this sad picture is being painted, we are also shown that there are good people out there as well as bad; Saroo is helped by a young man, who takes him to a police station. From then on, authorities search fruitlessly for his home town and his family, before he is finally adopted by an Australian couple. We see that he is well loved and cared for, and we think that Saroo has finally found his happy ending. However, twenty years later, he is plagued by the thoughts of his biological family, and is encouraged by his friends to search for them. It is amazing to think that the young child actor playing Saroo was not really an actor at all; eight-year-old Sunny Pawar had never acted before, yet I cannot imagine Saroo being played by a better person. His depth of emotion, from his wide grin to his unparalleled fear to his silent understanding, truly captured the struggles he endured in his search.

Surprisingly, Google gets quite a lot of advertising during this film, as an older Saroo, played by Dev Patel, uses Google Earth to explore India and to track the train lines in an attempt to find his home. Patel’s performance is brilliant, and it is no wonder he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. It is hard not to be sympathetic to his spiralling condition and increasing desperation, as he quits his job and pushes his loved ones away, and this sets up for the ending of the film beautifully. After two long years, his search ends; he finds his home town in such a way that it doesn’t seem credible at all. Still, with incredible luck, he succeeds in his venture, finding out he’d been looking in the wrong area entirely. His incredulity and wonder is clear, and I found myself more than ever wanting to see him reunited with his family.

The ending was more than just a blissful reunion, however, tinged with sorrow and loss. Saroo returns to his home town and finally sets eyes on his mother. Despite this, what makes the ending perfect is not these scenes at all. Instead, after Patel is reunited with his on-screen mother, we are shown footage of the actual Saroo meeting his mother in February 2012, solidifying everything that came before as a representation of this Saroo’s journey, a journey that was finally complete. While Patel’s performance as Saroo was nomination worthy, this is what really brings on the tears. All the characters we met throughout the film, Saroo’s biological brother Guddu, his mother Kamla, his adopted brother Mantosh, both his adopted parents John and Sue Brierley – they were all tangible, breathing people who lived through this experience, who struggled and cried and laughed, interwoven into each other’s lives. This final footage solidifies the idea that Lion is more than just a film, more than just some light entertainment for a Sunday night: it is a nonfictional retelling of a horrific ordeal coming to a heart-warming close. This fact really hits home.

The film ends with a statement – in India, 80,000 children become lost every year. This figure is astounding when you imagine 80,000 young children just like Saroo wandering the train line, running from authorities and escaping child traffickers. After seeing the emotional journey of just one of these children, you’d be kidding yourself if you thought all the tales ended the way Lion does. Lion is the film to see, for an incredible story such as Saroo’s should not go unheard.