Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lion: Searching for Home

Well, I've finally watched the ninth Best Picture nominee of the year, Lion. And with that, I can say that Hollywood has really had a very good year. Director Garth Davis gives us a moving story, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it's true, and continues to prove that sometimes real life is more unbelievable than fiction.

Adapted from Saroo Brierley's autobiography, A Long Way Home, Lion is the story of Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a young boy from a tiny Indian village. He lives with his mother, brother, and sister, and while they lead a difficult life as poor manual laborers, Saroo knows that he is loved and cared for. However, one night his life is turned upside down when he gets separated from his brother, is whisked away to Kolkata on a train, and becomes one of the 80,000 children who go missing in India every year. Any number of horrible things could happen to him, but he miraculously finds his way into the right hands, and ends up being adopted by John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman), a couple from Tasmania, Australia.

Flash forward to twenty years later and the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) starts having flashbacks about his childhood. What follows is a dawning realization of how his current life of privilege is so different from his past life of poverty. Using his remarkably vivid memories and the maps on Google Earth, he sets out to retrace his steps and find his birth mother. However, he does not want to disappoint his adoptive mother, leading to a great deal of heartache as he struggles to reconcile his Indian and Australian identities and understand what it is that he wants to find.

Patel's and Kidman's performances are great and deserve their respective Supporting Actor and Actress nominations, but the real star of the film is Sunny Pawar, who plays the five-year-old Saroo. His bewildering journey from Khandwa to Kolkata is a whirlwind of fear and danger, and the second half of the movie can't pack as much of an emotional punch as the first. The Brierleys also adopt a second orphan son, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), who has a host of psychological problems and never fully adjusts to his new life in Tasmania like Saroo did. However, the movie isn't quite sure what to do with his story and Luke Davies' script is vaguely unfulfilling with respect to Saroo's life in Australia.

Overall, Lion is a well-crafted film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience, if only to raise more awareness of the lives of Indian street children (visit lionmovie.com to learn more). It is one of the more "feel-good" Oscar movies of the year, ending with some rather touching footage of the real-life Saroo at the end of his search. It is also a reminder that technology can facilitate astonishing miracles. In a country of one billion people, this lost boy found his home, and someone should give him an Oscar for that feat alone. 

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