Lion

Growing up in Hobart, Tasmania for the majority of his life, Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) knew that he was adopted from India, but had come to embrace his life as an Australian. He remembered fragments of his life in India, up to the point of being lost on a train at the age of five. He loved his adopted parents and was grateful for the life he had been given by this loving couple. As an adult, he begins to consider his past and life left behind in India and whatever became of his blood family. With the introduction of Google Earth and through the encouragement of his friends, he begins to piece together the puzzle of his life on the sub-continent of Asia. In his search, he wrestles with the impact of his discoveries and what they will mean to both of his families.

Based on the true-to-life autobiographical accounts from A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley which provides a glimpse into the world of adoption and all that’s involved in the process. As his first feature film, director Garth Davis provides a balanced perspective on the journey that many adopted children experience in answering the questions of who were my birth parents and where are they now? Through Brierley’s accounts as a five-year-old lost in the interior of India to his adult pursuits of his family roots, this helps to show the blessings and demons of the adoptive process.

The picturesque backdrops of these starkly different, but none-the-less beautiful landscapes of India and Tasmania, furnish the contrasting lifestyles of this unifying story. Davis manages to capture the beauty and devastating life of Saroo and his family in India. From the outset, this first time child actor, Sunny Pawar, provides the lifeblood and heart of this tale of woe.

Even amongst the subtitled first hour, his compelling performance draws the viewer into his journey and develops a desire to know the outcome of his bleak, but serendipitous adventure. The disturbing life of children on the streets of Calcutta and throughout India, as seen through the eyes of a five-year-old boy, sets up the central theme of finding his way back home. This performance is one of the strengths of the film, but it does set up one of the key weakness, too. In giving Pawar so much screen time, Davis inevitably gets bogged down in the details of the back story, which defuses some of the emotional tension that he tires to build in the opening sequences. This over dramatisation leads to a feeling of two short films being forced together, opposed it being one feature film.

Once the second act begins, it is up to Dev Patel (The Man Who Knew Infinity) to bring audiences back into the primary thrust of the homecoming storyline. He does an admirable work with the lead role and is well cast as the adult Saroo. He even manages to do a masterful work with the Australian accent. Being supported by Nicole Kidman (Paddington) and David Wenham (Australia) as his Australian parents and Rooney Mara (Carol) as his American girlfriend does help, but ultimately this is Patel’s film to make or break. He shows that he is able to bring the attention back to main story line and delivers the embodiment of the investigative adopted son. Davis does manage to show the psychological anguish that Saroo experienced and even though this act does suffer from a similar fate of the first act with prolonged story development, it does stay on track and is compelling to the end.

Lion is a must-see film for those with a heart for adoption and those who desire to see a realistic outcome of this crucial process. Also, it is encouraging to see an Australian film gaining the attention of international audiences. The overall production does have some challenges, but the performances from the lead actors should receive accolades this year and should be enough to motivate audiences to get out to enjoy this gripping quest of the human spirit.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

What is our fascination with getting ‘home?’ In Lion, we are able to see the desire to get back to family and to rediscover the place called home. The desire for solace and safety are ingrained into the core of humanity. Interestingly, a family and a house cannot always provide for these needs. Thankfully the Bible does not leave us without answers to this drive to get home.

A key theme in Christianity is the notion of ‘homecoming,’ but what is understood is that ‘home’ is not merely found in a building or even in the bodies we have been given. These things are temporary reflections of something bigger and eternal. The ultimate home can only be found with God Himself and He is where things begin and end.

For those searching for their home in this life, you do not need Google Earth, but begin your search in the words of God who can direct you home.

Passages on a home: 

Psalm 90:1; John 14:2-6, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, 6; 2 Peter 1:13

Passages on adoption:

Matthew 18:5, Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 4:5-7

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.

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