I’m not saying that the timing in my seeing the film Lion, and the announcement of the BAFTA Awards has any kind of deep meaning. What I am saying is the fact that I liked the film and I am decidedly ratified that the British Academy of Film and Television also liked the film.
Lion walked away with two BAFTAs which are Britain’s Oscar-equivalents. Dev Patel won for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (film) and Luke Davies won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film Lion is up for six Oscars and both Patel and Davies have been nominated in the same categories that they won their BAFTAs.
Lion is a film based on a true story (Mild spoilers ahead) . Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar) is a small child of five living in a very poor neighborhood called Ganesha Talai located in the vicinity of the city of Kwandha in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. His mother is a day laborer and Saroo helps his older brother to steal coal from rail trains which they can then sell in the neighborhood.
On a particular day, Saroo’s older brother Guddu decides that he will head off to a bigger place to do laborer work that pays more. Saroo begs to go with him, and despite the fact that little Saroo is really too small for the work, Guddu takes his little brother with him.
At a rail station, Saroo is instructed to wait for his brother, who promises to return. The small boy falls asleep. When he awakes there’s no sign of Guddu, so the small boy climbs aboard a parked train to look for his brother. Again he falls asleep. This train happens to be a newly de-commissioned train and will be driven empty to Calcutta which is 1600 kilometers away.
When the train finally arrives at Calcutta, 1600 kilometers and two days later, Saroo is not only without his brother, but is literally as lost as one can be. He does not speak Bengali, the local language, he doesn’t know his own surname, his mother’s name, nor can he accurately describe the name of his neighborhood.
After a few days of hanging with a group of homeless street kids, and then being taken in by a woman called Noor, he is eventually ‘captured’ or maybe collected is a better word. He is taken to an orphanage that is described by other kids there as ‘a very bad place’.
That’s basically the first half of the film. Saroo will ultimately be adopted by a Tasmanian couple – the Brierley’s.
Sue Brierley is played by Nicole Kidman, and John Brierley by David Wenham. We see a bit of little Saroo settling in with Brierleys until the screen goes black for a longish 3-4 seconds before we see a graphic that says ’20 years later’.
Saroo Brierley is now played by Dev Patel. This begins the second half of the film, and at its core, it replicates the first half. Whereas little Saroo was a small uneducated child lost in a, to him, foreign city, Dev Patel’s Saroo has none of the disadvantages that his younger self faced.
But he will want the same thing, to return to his roots and find his original family.
The differences between the first half of the film and the second half come down to conventionality. For the viewer, we know as little as the young Saroo. We have none of the information that is asked of him. So for us , we are as lost as the onscreen child. Also as viewers we know that Saroo will survive. But despite that, the first half is more involving and interesting.
The second half is less involving and less interesting. The older Saroo is more than capable of acting on his dreams and remembrances. Plus he has the support of his adoptive parents as well as a girl friend (Lucy is played by Rooney Mara). He is going to distance himself from his supportive family and friends as he works through his dilemma of researching.
What I am getting to is that the child Saroo’s separation from his brother and mother is an external fact and that he has no tools at hand to work things through. But the older and adult Saroo’s problem is mostly internal. Yes it is a struggle for him, but he still has a roof, and food, and safety and security; so his way of dealing with it will be to work things out internally and then using his memory and a terrific computer tool – Google Earth – to solve his problem which is to finds his roots.
I am going to rate the film at four point zero. It is a strong and emotional film that grabs you and demands that you care in the first half. Our ‘caring’ becomes ‘hoping’ in the second half. Said another way, the film lacks suspense but this alone doesn’t detract from the overall worthiness in my opinion.
Rooney’s role as the girl friend is almost an after thought, and we are kind of adrift about Saroo’s relationship with her. As Sue Brierley, Kidman does quite well as a warm and loving mother. She doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she shines. Dev Patel is quite charismatic as the often brooding yet determined adult Saroo.
I don’t see an Oscar for Patel this year, but he has earned a deserved nomination. The director of the film, Garth Davis has done wonderful work in this, his debut as a feature film director. Have a look at the trailer –