Stranger than fiction. Sometimes real life events are so incredible that they seem like works of fiction. I’ve had a few moments in life where I found myself in the middle of something epic. But those were just moments. Imagine a life that rivals some of the greatest stories you’ve ever heard. Such a life belongs to Saroo Brierley, an Indian-born Aussie from humble yet extraordinary beginnings.
Lion begins with a window into the world of Saroo (Sunny Pawar, Love Sonia), an impoverished, adorably resilient five-year-old boy. He and his older brother Guddu supplement their mother’s meager income by panhandling on the streets of their small enclave, a tiny village in India. I was transported to another world, both morally and culturally. Saroo’s learned resourcefulness was a byproduct of the apathetic environment in which he lived. Yet his spirit was one of innocence and joy.
In my travels to Indonesia, I witnessed firsthand how those with the least have the most love in their hearts. It shines forth like a beacon, and that’s the quality young Saroo radiated into the world. All is well until one fateful day threatens to snuff out that little light. While waiting at a train station for his brother to return from securing work, Saroo inadvertently becomes trapped on a train and whisked hundreds of miles away. He disembarks in the congested city of Calcutta, where he does not speak the language and cannot describe his home. Lost in a shuffle of insidious indifference, Saroo fends for himself in a manner no child should have to. Danger lurks around every corner, as he narrowly escapes one pitfall after another.
Through sheer serendipity, Saroo finds himself at an orphanage, where a new family is eventually brokered. In yet another seismic shift in his life, he is adopted by an Australian couple, John (David Wenham, Goldstone) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman, Secret in Their Eyes). This time the change is one that brings peace and healing, as John and Sue give Saroo the love and security he so desperately needs, filling his childhood with joy once again.
Fast-forward 25 years and Saroo (Dev Patel, Chappie) is a fresh-faced young man coming into his own. He has a girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara, Carol) and has nestled into a secure life. But no matter how wonderful things have become, Saroo can’t escape the nagging memory of the life he once knew. He longs to find the mother and brother whom he believes never stopped searching for him. Hampered by poverty and a deficient local infrastructure, it was virtually impossible for Saroo to have been reunited with his family after he came to be stranded in Calcutta as a child. Now that he is an adult, he embarks on the emotional journey to find his family. Saroo is torn between wounding his adoptive parents and satisfying his own longing to reconnect with a forgotten part of himself, toiling away in frustration in an effort to pinpoint the area in which he grew up.
I frequently extoll the virtue of film’s ability to illicit emotion and remain with the viewer long after watching. The most powerful films feel like an emotional investment. As I’m oft to repeat, the beauty of film as an artistic medium lies in its ability to transcend outward differences and to convey the profound depth of the human experience. With all that’s going on in the world, it’s nice to experience something good about the human condition, to connect with another story on an emotional level. Lion was a beautiful film, and I felt deeply moved and emotionally invested in what I was watching. One of the year’s best.