Review: Inarguably, the true event that inspires Garth Davis’ Lion is a blessing-in-disguise story. A five-year old Indian boy, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets lost while going away from home with his older brother. He’s stranded in Calcutta – 1,600KM away from home; survived hardships in street life, before being adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), who lives in Tasmania.
Separated from his birth family and his compassionate brother, Saroo, now a Brierley (portrayed by Dev Patel), grows into a full-fledged Australian – who even forgets to speak Hindi. When hearing about Google Earth, Saroo becomes obsessed with it to trace down his memory lane in attempt to locate his home in India. Will he find his birth house after all? At this point, knowing how this story ends is moderately forgiven, because Lion isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Lion’s plot isn’t as important as the emotional journey it carries along. We all know where the plot leads to (tell me, what the purpose of making this is if Saroo doesn’t meet his birth family in the end?) as Garth Davis – with Luke Davies’ non-patronizing script – directs audiences to “be in every point” in Saroo’s journey, which is presented in two inter-tangled, opposite half. First half of Lion details how he “is moved” away from his home; while the other half details how adult Saroo finds a way home. It’s a cycle in a perfect circle about finding home.
The first half is evidently the strongest part of Lion. It feels like poetry of regret depicted as if Davis and Davies translate what real Saroo might contemplate about what made him got separated from his family. There’s a great remorse emanated through the portrayal of Guddu, Saroo’s brother, and their mother; through the portrayal of Saroo’s homeland. The slums, the people, and the surroundings might be flawed, but Greg Frasier’s cinematography captures something else: an idyll – making it a safe haven, which orchestrates Saroo’s regret; which outnumbers a more advanced Calcutta or a way more headmost Australia.
Newcomer, Sunny Pawar, is the soul of Lion’s first half – portraying fragility and determination at the same time. Pawar naturally channels the energy to his lukewarm performance. I might never know how it feels to get accidentally separated from my family to the extent that it forever changes my life; but I can feel and that bitterness to the sense that I empathize; thanks to Sunny Pawar’s brilliance (which surprisingly mirrors his adult-counterpart, Dev Patel’s way to stardom in Slumdog Millionaire).
The second half, in which we witness how grown-up Saroo gets obsessed with finding his home, Lion slows down, repetitively bumps into patterns and starts dragging in. This contradicts the vivacious first half, although the character is now on a more comfortable state. It moves a little long on a family drama about adoption, which emanates Nicole Kidman’s long-forgotten shines. This little delays from the perfect cycle I mentioned previously, fortunately gives Dev Patel a stage to shine the way Kidman shines. At some points, his character, despite being the incarnation of Pawar’s, feels like a vehicle for infant Saroo to finally return home, hence the remark for his supporting roles.
The conclusion is what makes Lion a complete story – an ode to home where our heart is. It is well-narrated in a full circle, well-acted, and moving. Lion isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey; and the journey is beautiful.