Finding your way home with this Aussie Drama

Finding your way home with this Aussie Drama

Review: Lion

(PG) Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman

Growing up in Hobart, Tasmania, for the majority of his life, Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) knew he was adopted from India, but had come to embrace his life as an Australian. He remembers fragments of his life in India, up to the point of being lost on a train at the age of five. He loves his adopted parents and is grateful for the life he has been given by them. But as an adult, he begins to consider his past, the life he left behind in India, and whatever became of his blood family. With the help 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.

Lion is based on a true story, as recorded in the autobiographical account 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, Australian 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 of being a five-year-old lost in the interior of India to his adult pursuits of his family roots, the blessings and demons of the adoptive process are helpfully depicted.

The picturesque backdrops of the starkly different but 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 of Lion, first-time child actor Sunny Pawar provides the lifeblood and heart of this tale of woe. Even among 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 movie’s central theme of finding the way back home. Pawar’s performance is one of the strengths of the film, but it does set up one of the key weaknesses, 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 he tries to build in the opening sequences. This over-dramatisation leads to a feeling of two short films being forced together, as opposed to Lion being one feature film.

Once the second act begins, it is up to Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) to bring audiences back into the primary thrust of the homecoming storyline. He does admirable work with the lead role and is well cast as the adult Saroo. He even manages to do a masterful job with the Australian accent. Being supported by Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge) 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 he is able to bring the attention back to the main storyline and delivers the embodiment of the investigative adopted son. Davis also manages to show the psychological anguish that Saroo experienced and even though the final act suffers from a similar fate to the first act (with its 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 be enough to motivate audiences to get out to enjoy this gripping quest of the human spirit.   

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

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger


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