Every now & then a film comes out that my Mum & I promise to only watch with each other – Lion is one of those films. I’d seen trailers & heard all the awards season buzz around it & was really looking forward to seeing it; but then I saw reviews from some of my friends with blogs where they claimed it was good, but they didn’t emotionally connect to it & I became a bit reserved about it.
Sunday night, sat in a near-full cinema screen, my Mum & I clutching hands & trying to cry as quietly as we could – I cried all of makeup off. Lion is an incredible story about hope, searching & love, & it’s possibly my favourite film of the year so far.
It’s based on the book The Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley & adapted for the screen by director Garth Davis, starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman & Rooney Mara.
Lion is the true story about Saroo Brierley, who as a five year old got separated thousands of miles from his family & lost with nobody knowing where his home was & few even speaking his language. After months of struggling he was adopted by a couple in Tasmania, where he was raised. It’s only once he’s in college that he properly begins to consider searching for where he was from, & finding the journey back home.
The character’s are all incredibly vivid & real, which isn’t really much of a surprise when they’re all based on real people. The story solely follows Saroo, a little boy lost, & then a young man searching. He’s hopeful & grateful & loving yet understandably still lost, not knowing where his family is or what became of them.
Sunny Pawar is an incredible talent at such a young age in his first ever acting credit. Director Garth Davis described him as having a “Charlie Chaplin-esque” nature to him that made him able to tell stories without speaking & I don’t think it could be described in a better way. Young Saroo says not much more than his brother’s name, his hometown, & a handful of quick conversations with people yet he conveys such story & such emotion from his physicality. Sunny Pawar was an incredible find & I look forward to seeing what he can do in the future.
Dev Patel stars as Saroo all grown up & he is magnificent. He presents an absolute powerhouse of a performance as a grown up Saroo struggling to cope with tracking down his lost family, struggling between loving his adoptive family & the childhood tragedy of being ripped away from his parents. You can see the dedication Patel took into becoming this character, both physically & mentally; according to the film’s makers he not only battled them in an audition for the role that lasted six hours due to their hesitations that was too obvious a choice in casting; but then went on to prepare for the role in an eight month process where he traced the real Saroo’s journey & immersed himself in that life. He puts his entire soul into this film & his performance is absolutely unforgettable. Dev Patel is a well known actor, & for an actor to make you forget who they are & make you only believe in the character is an amazing feat. This is the best he has ever been.
Saroo’s biological brother is Guddu, a young boy who’s been forced to grow up far too quickly much like many children who live in that kind of poverty. He’s hard working with a cheeky edge & ultimately has a big soft spot for his younger brother.
He’s played by Abhishek Bharate, who is excellent. This is his first acting credit as well, & the relationship between him & Sunny is incredible & tangible. He’s present throughout a lot of the film just as an image in older Saroo’s mind, & his silent presence there is moving & haunting, just from him looking at his brother all grown up.
Their mother is Kamla, a woman in absolute poverty raising three children on her own & carrying rocks as a labourer. She adores her children, & feels guilty for not only the life, but the responsibility she has given them. She’s played by Priyanka Bose, an amazing actress who brings such life to the character. Bose actually went to meet the real Kamla to prepare for the role, questioned her & got to really know her to really honour her & the part she plays in this story of finding home.
Sue & John Brierley are wonderful characters. They’re good people who wanted to good by helping children in need & that’s what they did. It wasn’t ever going to be plain sailing but they accept that & just want to love their children. They are the epitome of perfect parents, loving & supportive & never giving up on trying.
David Wenham is sweet & loving as John, showing both his strengths & vulnerabilities. There is no backstory to John, yet Wenhan gives him so many levels that he is a full character whilst knowing nothing about him.
Nicole Kidman is simply phenomenal, & was actually handpicked for the role by the real life Sue Brierley when it was first suggested they would make a film adaptation.
The brierley’s also adopt another child, Mantosh. Like Saroo, Mantosh is a child saved from India, but they are unlike in every other way. While Saroo did struggle, he came from a happy family; while Mantosh is evidently from a different background all together. We’re never given an answer to why Mantosh suffers from rage and self-harm, but his relationship with the family is out to peace by the end of the film.
Mantosh is played by Keshav Jadhav as a child, & Divian Ladwa as an adult; both bringing immense power to the role. It’s a hefty role to take on but both become it so well that it is heartbreaking to watch.
Lucy is once Saroo’s lover, but she’s more of a friend & confidant by the end of the film. She’s supportive & doting but ultimately concerned, & Saroo is unable to accept her help.
The character of Lucy is actually a mixture of the various girlfriend’s the real Saroo had throughout his search, & Rooney Mara embraces the small role beautifully. The actress was originally planning a small break from acting when she discovered this role & knew she had to do it, & you can see the passion in the role from her performance.
Some critics claimed the film was too slow moving but I found no fault with it at all. It was beautifully told, in such a linear fashion that seemed unusual for a story about a man finding his way home. It saves you from having to jolt between the past & present, & gives with only the memories that Saroo himself has about his past, leaving you much like the character himself.
The jump between young Saroo & adult Saroo just feels fluid in the way that it’s told. Each part feels like a stepping stone to the next so that the story comes together in a way that isn’t disjointed, & as the film ages with Saroo it just feels totally inclusive in his journey.
The way the story is told visually is so rich with colour, culture & beauty. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is mainly displaying two perspectives of the story: first, Saroo’s; & secondly, from the sky. Sara’s search began with Google Earth, & many of the shots are filmed in the same birds eye fashion that the search engine uses. I only just realised this in hindsight & I think it’s SO CLEVER.
It’s filmed entirely on location, in both India & Tasmania & in the actual places where the real story happened. Something I really love is that the villagers in the final scene are the actual villagers from the real story, so they were seeing the story be retold when they witnessed the original themselves – how incredible is that?
And to quickly talk about the music; every element of the soundtrack & score fit with the story beautifully. It was uplifting & moving, nostaligic & modern & exactly what the story would sound like if it were just music. Dustin O’Halloran & Volker Bertelmann aced it.
Lion has been nominated for a whole bunch of awards this season, including six Academy Awards; Best Motion Picture of the Year; Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Dev Patel); Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Nicole Kidman); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Achievement in Cinematography & Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score). I agree with all these nominations but still cannot for the life of me understand why Dev Patel has been reduced to “Supporting Actor” for so many awards this year when he was literally the main character & top billing actor. The Golden Globes, BAFTAs, SAG & AACTA’s all did it – but maybe he could be classed as a supporting actor for sharing the role with Sunny Pawar playing the younger Saroo? I’m not sure how it works or how it’s justified, but it does feel a lot like Alicia Vikander’s “Supporting Actress” Oscar win last year when she was co-lead with Eddie Redmane in The Danish Girl.
I adored it. The direction, the performances, the cinematography & the music were all perfect, & together made an emotive & moving story that won’t be forgotten.
It feels joyous in a time where the world is looking a little scary. Fun fact – star of the film Sunny Pawar was originally unable to attend the premiere because he was denied a visa to the US, where it was held. We’re at a point in history where films may feel unimportant due to the real life situations that are happening. But I think they’re more important now than ever. Films aren’t about forgetting about real life for a couple of hours, they’re about leaving you with feelings that you can take into the real world. Lion is about transatlantic love, families across countries & home being more than one place. That’s important to remember.
I think I’m certain that this is my favourite film of the year (so far). There’s still many films that have been released that I have yet to see, but Lion was told with such rich emotion & heartfelt storytelling that it will take a lot to bump it lower down my list.
Please see it if you can.
Lion is in select cinemas worldwide now.