poster-film-lion-2016The Weinstein name in the opening credits hint that what is about to unspool might be special. Knowing that Nicole Kidman all but demanded her role provides another hint. Knowing that Dev Patel, the runaway star of “Slumdog Millionaire,” auditioned arduously for the lead role provides a further hint. The Weinsteins insisted on bringing “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” Rooney Mara into the production. And a nationwide search interviewing over 1,000 5-year-old boys found Sunny Pawar, a name you will probably reckon with over the next, say, 60 or 70 years of movie making.

Wikipedia baldly summarizes the plot thus: “Saroo Brierley, who was lost from his family at the age of five and was adopted by an Australian family, searches for his long-lost family using Google Earth.” The movie is adapted from Saroo Brierley’s book “A Long Way Home,” a book group fav since its 2011 publication. With the 2014 announcement of the film project, Kidman and Patel wanted in.

Filmed in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, and Melbourne and Hobart, Australia, the flick is visually stunning. Oscar buzz has already started ahead of the November 25 USA premiere, not just for Kidman and Patel, but also for the awesome young Sunny Pawar, who plays the young Saroo.

Unlike many “epic journey” movies that begin near the end and catch you up by flashbacks (a technique pioneered by Homer in the Odyssey about 2,800 years ago), Lion tells the story in chronological order. This builds suspense, as we don’t know what will happen as young Saroo follows his older brother to work, and then falls asleep on an empty train. The train leaves his tiny village, and Saroo is trapped on a 1,000 mile journey to Calcutta. Alone, scared, vulnerable, unable to communicate (his village speaks Hindi, Calcutta speaks Bengali), Saroo navigates the perils common to the 80,000 Indian children who go missing every year.

Saroo winds up in an orphanage, and is adopted by a loving family in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. He grows up in a privileged upper-middle-class environment, learning perfect Aussie-accented English and cricket. But he still wonders about his origins, and searches the Earth to find them. Well, actually, he virtually searches via Google Earth, until he finally finds the few features he remembers about his first home. Tearful reunion with his now aged birth mother ensues.

The outcome is predictable, particularly since we know that the protagonist is alive, well, and a successful businessman and author. But the decision to tell the story in order preserves the sense of jeopardy at each turn. Whether it is 5-year-old Saroo trying to survive on the mean streets of Calcutta or the 25-year-old Saroo on an extended virtual search for self, the viewer always must wait for the next scene to know that it will be OK.

While we’re handing out Oscar nominations, let’s not overlook Indian dancer, model, actress, and beauty Priyanka Bose as Saroo’s birth mother.

As to why the film is called “Lion,” you’ll have to see for yourself.

Philip Neches



2 Responses to “Lion”

  1. We saw LION last night and I was going to send Ben a review but was smart enough to check first. Thanks for doing the work and for writing the review I’d have written.

    There are things that happen that are just incredible………and that 5 year old boy is quite fabulous.

  2. 5 year old was best part of the movie.

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