For an Australian film Lion is possibly the greatest to have graced the silver screen in the last 10 years. It is raw to the point of beauty and touching in ways that could only be imagined. For a film to transport you with such perfection to another time and place, another life and their journey, the only hope is the film does the story justice. Lion not only tells a story of great misfortune, it also tells the story of adventure and possibility. Worthy of every award and praise it has gained, but not only that, you get to see Nicole Kidman do actual acting.
Based on the auto-biography “A Long Way Home”, Lion tells the story of Indian Saroo Brierley played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Newsroom) and how he came to find himself living in Australia with his new parents. At the age of five Saroo and his brother set off for work to help their single mother earn some money for food. But after Saroo and his brother were separated, he found himself asleep on a locked train for several days. With no luck of finding his way home he was soon sent to an orphanage where an Australian couple decided to adopt him. Saroo adapted into his new life with relative ease, until the desire to discover who he really is took over in the most dramatic way. With thanks to the Internet and Google Earth he was able to search images of train lines with the few memories he had, until he located his family some 20 years later.
The story itself is quite unbelievable in the fact that a small child could part from his family in such horrible circumstances and end up in Australia, only then to use Google Earth to find his family again. Not a story you could think up easily even for the best of writers. But what gives this story its edge, is exactly the fact that this horrible heart wrenching story is real, it happened to an actual person of whom we meet later in the film.
The film is divided up into two worlds, over crowded poverty stricken religious and corrupt India,to the warm open lands and pristine beaches of Australia. The movie sets up perfectly as we live with Saroo in the gutters fighting kidnappers and being forced into sex slavery. Though prior to being lost, Saroo was living with his family of four in a small room within a small community. So from his life of poverty in Ganesh Talai to living on the streets in Calcutta it can only be imagined what life Saroo would have had should he never have been lost.
Cut to his new life living in Tasmania, which is a sharp contrast to his previous life. His own bedroom in a home with all the modern comforts, an education he would have never otherwise had all surrounded by the clean Tasmanian seas. While you might feel upset by the separation from his birth family, you appreciate his new life and the opportunity he would have never had.
Cinematically you are transported between these two worlds with visions of poverty and a basic way of living. The colours are dark and dim with a haze across the skyline. The cities are busy and crowded, which adds to mess and dirt of the streets of India. But when Saroo shakes the memory of India you are in the bright, warm colourful Australia with vast open spaces and hardly another person in sight. Swaying back and forth between the two worlds is dramatic yet it’s created with such attention it becomes a story in itself.
Despite the being adopted into a new family and starting a life in Australia Saroo found love. Lucy played by Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network, Her) is studying Hotel Management with Saroo in Melbourne. They are both invited to a house party with fellow students when they notice each other walking down the street but on opposite sides of the road. As they walk they try to outdo each other with a little dance until they meet at the doorway to the house. Possibly the most unrealistic yet beautiful start to a love story for such a traumatic story line. One of those moments where you have a smile and give a little giggle because it never happens that way in real life, but wouldn’t it be swell if it did.
While the story is based on the novel written by Saroo there is so much emotion and confusion attached to his story, not just any actor could navigate their way around the character. DevPatel, who is the go-to for any Indian mainstream movie, navigates his way around the complicated and emotional character with perfection. Torn between these two worlds and not wanting to cause his Australian family the heartache he would have caused his Indian family, you can see and feel his emotional rollercoaster as he struggles with the obsession. Dev Patel has a wonderful range as an actor that captures the true essence of what he is feeling. Something not even the highest paid actors can manage.
Which brings us to Nicole Kidman. This is possibly an easy character for Kidman to slip into, being Australian, being a mother, having lived in Australia in the 80s and possibly having had that hair. What you see in Kidman is a presence that hasn’t been seen from her in quite some time, so much so there isn’t a comparable performance. One can only speculate her own personal life can be attributed to this performance as she is a mother of adopted children. Her performance is heart warming and powerful to the point you can feel the love she has and understand how it is she is feeling. The portrayal possibly made easier by the fact she was able to connect with the Saroo’s real life Australian mother, Sue Brierley.
Overall this is a raw and beautiful film that shows a messed up world put back together again. It’s not a journey you would wish upon anyone, yet at the same time you almost question if it’s a journey that had to happen. A journey to give an opportunity to someone deserving they would otherwise never have had.