If Room had me slobbering last year, Lion is this year’s heartwarming, gut-wrenching and rousingly resounding affirmation of the power of love. Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, the family drama transcends beyond itself to many others who have lost their loved ones and provides some reprieve to grieving hearts. This isn’t just a movie. It’s a source of strength and healing. Going into the movie, it’s hard not to know or reasonably guess what the movie is about and how it all ends. Biopics like this, are therefore, really banking on connecting on a deeper level. Lion strikes emotional chords through faithful depiction and an incredible access to our protagonist’s internal confusion and conflict. With a past spanning the shanty towns of Madhya Pradesh and its fading memories, Lion unfolds Saroo race to connect two distant,difficult and diverging parts of his identity. It is emotional, powerful and very touching. It’s quite simply the only film which you just can’t say you don’t feel it.
Detractors can say it’s a ‘crowd-pleaser’ or whatever. The point with movies like this, discounting the fact that movies definitely want more than just proliferate art, is to portray real life stories as it is. Saroo Breirley’s story isn’t something that most people know to begin with. And if people are that critical of something as pure as this, then they’re too cynical to understand its value. Lion doesn’t even stick to the tried tropes of biographies and biopics. Most of the film isn’t that easy to watch. It’s tough on realism and doesn’t just brush off Saroo’s emotional troubles easily. I had a slight fear that Lion would make his endeavour of finding his family a sudden desire but it didn’t. A good amount of the film centered around Saroo’s past in India and his bittersweet experiences of his hometown. The film nailed a series of scenes in his early university life which were particularly poignant and well-shot, perfectly capturing a growing sense of isolation within himself and the surfacing of unresolved tensions that our protagonist has tried to avoid so far.
Dev Patel is absolutely brilliant in this. I wished he got more roles since Slumdog Millionaire because he really nailed it again. The polished charm that he gives Saroo is contrasted nicely to the gripping portrayal of melancholy and distress when self-reflection becomes a dead-end and all roads lead to none. Dev Patel is actually more ‘mature’ in this than his turn in Slumdog. He’s given the best performance of a career in a difficult role that’s caught between wanting to escape his past and confront it at the same time. Nicole Kidmann gives another fine performance as Saroo’s Australian mom. I really admire her work in Kubrick’s psychedelic Eyes Wide Shut and Von Trier’s haunting Dogville. This one shows a more motherly side to her range and it’s definitely up there with the best. Special mention has to be given to Sunny Pawar who plays the young Saroo. His handled his role with equal amounts of energy and subtlety and there’s always a fearless attitude which makes young Saroo impossible not to fall in love with. Rooney Mara was quite good but she wasn’t really as central as Patel and Kidmann. Those two really knocked it out of the park for this one.
At the root, it’s all about the heart. Lion is far from flashy and instead, relies on the collective strength of its characters to see them through. A few surreal elements are interspersed throughout this thoroughly grounded depiction of lost and found. There’s no greater love than a mother’s love for her child; And no greater pain for either to lose each other. At every crucial step of the way in his journey to find his lost family, he in turn, finds himself. Lion attempts to capture as many moments while trying to reconcile Saroo’s distinctly different experiences into a singular, universal depiction of love. It succeeds because it found the most genuine way to depict Saroo’s story. This is the most I’ve cried in the cinema and I’m not ashamed. It’s both so heartbreaking and life-affirming at the same time.