Movie Review



Little Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lives with his mother, sister and beloved older brother Guddu in a village near Khandwa, India. One night, he falls asleep aboard an empty train and wakes to find himself travelling thousands of miles across the country, towards Calcutta.

Far from home and unable to speak the language, Saroo is swallowed up in the vastness of the city. Evading dangers at every turn, he ends up in an orphanage. The future looks bleak until he is told that an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierly (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), want to adopt him.

Twenty years later, Saroo is a bright and athletic young Australian (Dev Patel) who is set to study Hotel Management in Melbourne. But something is missing. The taste of a food from his childhood brings memories flooding back, and Saroo realises that he can't rest until he's found home.

The true story of Saroo Brierly is a classic hero's journey: the boy who travels a long way from home, passes through a series of trials, and then finds his way back again as a changed man.

This arc gives Lion an inherent power, which is harnessed by screenwriter Luke Davies and director Garth Davis to great effect. It's a film of two halves, balancing India and Australia, boy and man, lost and found. Its greatest asset is tiny Sunny Pawar, who plays young Saroo with extraordinary spirit and naturalism.

Dev Patel is excellent, as is Nicole Kidman, and winningly Lion does not shy away from the thornier aspects of transnational adoption. Though he settles easily at first, Saroo eventually finds himself haunted and in a sense homeless. Cut off from his roots, he cannot reconcile his childhood and adulthood selves.

Saroo's story plays out on the painful fault-line between identities. Being brought to Australia has saved him from any number of terrible fates and has afforded him wonderful opportunities. And yet there is a sense in which he shouldn't be there at all. He had a home, he had a family, and his separation from them was an injustice and a tragedy.

Little Saroo isn't just helpless because he's little: he's helpless, and is denied help, because his family is poor and illiterate. He's just one more among thousands of street children whose lives are worth little to those in authority.

It's impossible not to be moved by Saroo's bittersweet homecoming. It's a big and a broken world, Lion reminds us: but just sometimes, by some miracle, a small piece of it gets put back together again.

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