Do yourself a favor and go into Lion without learning too much about it. That’s what I did, and it made the journey all the more enjoyable.
Lion follows a 5-year-old Indian boy, Saroo, who ends up hundreds of miles away from home, essentially orphaning himself. The first half of the film takes place in India, and the spoken language is Hindi and Bengali.
We eventually fast forward 20 years to Saroo as an adult (Dev Patel), long after being adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham).
The second half is, for the most part, inferior to the first half–aside from a killer ending–but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just modern with more familiar beats. Not only does this part of the story take place in a first-world nation, but it’s set in 2008. The first half, however, sees the film in 1986 in India. It’s raw and vulnerable at every turn.
Much credit goes to Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a young boy–which is more than half of the film. He’s convincing to the point where you forget he’s merely a child actor. He’s cute, but not cloying. He acts like a normal kid rather than an actor.
Lion delves deep into the psyche of a young child lost on his own. At one point, 5-year-old Saroo approaches a bridge after being lost for awhile. You briefly contemplate how some adults in this dire situation may consider jumping from it. However, we’re reminded that children have an eternal supply of hope. Later as an adult, Saroo sees that hope lost much more easily, amidst a situation much less desperate.
Every aspect of this film is brilliantly executed. From the intimate cinematography to the driving musical score. And Kidman gives one of her best performances. We’re given a premise that should be cliche, but it never feels as such.
The movie does much more than simply tell the story of a lost child. It puts the audience inside the lost child’s shoes and makes them feel for him.
For a straight-forward drama, Lion is consistently captivating and evenly paced. I never looked at my watch wondering when it would end–even during the half in another language.
Going into the movie not knowing exactly what was supposed to happen heightened the vicarious journey I took with Saroo, increasing the already well-constructed empathy that the film evokes.