Lion is one of those critically acclaimed, under the radar type films. Released widely in the US in January 2017(with a limited release in November 2016 to qualify for awards), it got lost in the Moonlight/La La Land/Hidden Figures hype that was this past Oscar season. Not really surprising when half the film is subtitled and the big names are Nicole Kidman in a supporting role and Dev Patel, or, probably how most casual viewers know him, “that guy from Slumdog Millionaire.” Despite getting a handful of prominent nominations (including best picture and supporting actor and actress), Lion never got the mass recognition that it deserved. If you should seek this out, which you absolutely should, what you will find is one of the most harrowing, emotional experiences of the year, a film that would not be out of place with the title of Best Picture preceding it.
In Lion (which is based upon a true story) a young boy named Saroo from a small rural Indian village gets separated from his family and ends up thousands of kilometers away in Calcutta. Knowing no one and not speaking their language (and also not being able to properly name where he came from), the first half of the film chronicles his life as he tries to survive in his new home. These are some of the most gripping moments of the story as we watch young Saroo try and navigate the mean, crowded streets as he tries to avoid predators, find food and a safe place to spend the night. The danger he is in is beautifully captured by the cinematography of Greig Fraiser (Zero Dark Thirty, Rogue One) whose camera feels right at home with the gritty material.
After getting put into an orphanage, things start to look up for Saroo when he is adopted by a well to do Australian couple. The film’s second act follows a now grown Saroo on a mission to find his lost family. Worried about seeming ungrateful to his foster family, he retreats into himself as he obsessively searches for a home he can only vaguely recall. While navigating the stresses of his newfound privileged life may pale in comparison to the trials of his youth, Dev Patel plays the role with the right amount of frustration and angst to really sell his new struggle. Nicole Kidman is also excellent as his adopted mother who struggles as her son becomes increasingly distant.
Lion is an emotional punch to the gut. Starting with the real life hell that Saroo goes through as a young boy, and ending with the internal trauma that resides in him later in life, the film does an amazing job of having the viewer experience this journey with him. It hit me hard, and I would imagine anyone with children it will affect even more. If Lion doesn’t make you feel something, you’re probably dead.