By: Oberst von Berauscht –
Saroo is a young boy living in poverty with his mother and brother Guddu in a small village in rural India. Late one night, he begs his older brother to allow him to accompany Guddu to work. When they arrive at a train station in the town Guddu works, he sees that Saroo has fallen asleep and is too tired to go anywhere. Guddu instructs Saroo to wait at the station for his return. Saroo wakes up to find his brother Guddu never returned.
Too young to know what to do when lost, Saroo wanders through the station looking for his brother, finally falling asleep on a train, only to wake up 1600 miles from home in Calcutta, where he doesn’t speak the Bengalese language. When asked where he is from, he replies “Ganestalay” a place which is on no maps, and Saroo finds himself treated as an orphan, eventually being adopted by an Australian family. Years later in Australia, the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) becomes obsessed with finding his home, and his mother and brother again. Which turns into an obsession that threatens to isolate him from those who love him.
Director Garth Davis’s biggest coup in Lion is the way in which he chose to tell Saroo’s story. While less assured filmmakers might use flashback heavily, this is nearly absent from Lion. Instead, the entire first half of the film invests you in the plight of the young Saroo, defiantly beginning the movie without any English dialogue spoken until very nearly an hour into the story. This allows the audience to grow accustomed and immersed in Saroo’s story and with Indian culture. And it allows for a great deal more mystery into what exactly Saroo will be going through, as well as creating a massive culture-shock when he encounters Westerners for the first time. Just as his character seems to have found a place with his Australian family, the film transitions to Saroo in his College years, and eventually as a working adult, which forces the audience to use context clues and small character moments to see how Saroo has managed all these years being raised in an upper-middle class family on the Island of Tasmania.
It takes a brave director to trust his audience this much, and he rewards that trust with an incredibly compelling narrative.
Davis manages to capture a humanity and complexity with his film’s characters that is not often seen so consistently in film. Though ultimately the story pivots on its main character Saroo. Davis gets a lot of mileage out of child actor Sunny Pawar, whose emotional collapse over literally losing his family and becoming homeless in an unfamiliar place is heartbreaking to witness. And the scenes where Saroo is integrating into his new Australian family show the bricks being laid in a new foundation, and the triumph of a child’s ability to endure hardships most adults could never fathom. Dev Patel owns his piece of the film; going through a crisis of obsession, there is no logic to the needle-in-a-haystack search he embarks on. But like the journey of an artist, it is persistence that pays off.
Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel deliver incredible performances as the young and adult Saroo respectively. Lion is one of the year’s most emotional films, a human story that pulls all of the right heartstrings without ever feeling overwrought or soapy.
Lion (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the child Saroo calls for his brother Guddu, or say “Ganestalay”
Take a Drink: each time you see child Saroo’s situation go from bad to worse
Take a Drink: each time the Adult Saroo takes a drink
Do a Shot: for Google!