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Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar star in Lion (2016). Photo by Sunstar Entertainment.
Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar star in Lion (2016). Photo: Sunstar Entertainment

Film review: Lion

For Ashley Thompson, no film to date has better depicted the bittersweet affair of adoption than Garth Davis’ Lion

Perhaps my husband said it best as I sat blurry-eyed while we watched the end credits roll: “If you didn’t have a lump in your throat just then, there’s something wrong with you”.

Lion is the story of five-year-old Saroo Khan (Sunny Pawar) who is tragically separated from his family when he gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of kilometres across India.

Unable to understand the local language of Calcutta, accurately pronounce his home town or comprehend his mum’s real name is not “Mum”, Saroo survives a host of challenges before he is eventually adopted by Tasmanian couple John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman).

Fast-forward 20 years and Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) is as fair dinkum Aussie as you get. So seamlessly assimilated into Australian culture he doesn’t hesitate in claiming his cricket allegiance to Australia over India. But the tragic circumstances of how he got to where he is have never left him.

Far from glorifying “the lucky country”, Lion is bold and raw in its assertion that this child was loved and happy in his homeland, with his biological mother and siblings. While Saroo is deeply aware and grateful for his life in Australia, he cannot shake the knowledge that his family still consider him lost, and this haunts him.

Armed with the “new” technology of Google Earth, Saroo sets out to find his family and reconcile his past.

Rarely do I respond to the harrowing overdramatic representations of films “based on a true story” and yet I was completely blindsided by Lion’s soaring cinematography and thoughtful narrative which drew me into a world I wasn’t expecting to love: rural India. A tribute no doubt to the involvement of the Indian film community.

Far less cynical than reviewers who have starred this film down for its subjective gaps and Oscar-bait angling, I fell completely for the charm of the first act which depicted the rich relationships found in the slums.

I was so invested in the outcome of Saroo’s search for home that I was surprised to find myself experiencing a range of emotions on his behalf: anger for his seemingly forced separation from India, angst for his transition to Australia, sadness for his inconclusive memories and finally joy on understanding the significance of the film’s title.  

Yet perhaps what affected me most was Nicole Kidman’s potent response to Dev Patel when learning of Saroo’s assumption for the reason the Brierley couple adopted him. 

I could not recommend Lion more highly; whether or not it cleans up in the upcoming awards season, it has won the heart of this viewer.

Ashley Thompson

Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham
2016, rated PG
Lion will be released in Australian cinemas on 19 January 2017.

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