“I’m starting to remember a life I had forgotten…”
The fear of being lost and far away from home is a universal one. Most of us as children (and maybe even as adults) experienced that moment when you ran off to look at the toys and then turned around to find that you couldn’t see your parents. You are alone and an empty feeling of overwhelming terror takes over. Then you’re found – simultaneously berated and loved – told to never run off again. ‘Lion’ isn’t that kind of story, although that universal experience allows us to emotionally engage with it. A tiny, minute taste of what happened to Saroo Brierley. The film is based on a true story, Saroo’s account of what happened when he found himself alone and thousands of kilometres away from home.
Davis decides to follow a linear narrative as closely as possible. Instead of seeing the 20-something Saroo (Patel) remembering his childhood trauma whilst simultaneously trying to find home, armed with only a handful of memories and the newly-invented Google Earth, we start at the beginning. We see five-year old Saroo and his family, we see the love they have for each other and how much they depend on each other. We then witness Saroo alone and trapped on a train that is carrying him to places unknown. He arrives at the other side of the country, too young to know how to get home. For around half of the running time we follow Saroo as faces innumerable, unimaginable and incomprehensible horrors before being adopted by an Australian couple (Kidman & Wenham). Twenty years on Saroo remembers more about his past and, with unwaverable determination, he sets out to find home.
It’s a film of two halves which are tonally very different to the point of almost being at odds. The first section is supremely harrowing, regularly tear-inducing and continuously devastating. Child actor Pawar is a true revelation, an utter joy to watch as he endures a living nightmare. There’s little dialogue and little context as we witness Saroo undergoing a series of truly unfortunate events. His expressions tell us all we need to know and we desperately will that his rescue is fast-approaching.
The second half is slower, less immediate and arguably slightly weaker as a result. Although very well acted by a talented cast the pacing is too slow and too oriented around desperately clicking around Google Earth. Although Patel skillfully articulates Saroo’s ongoing trauma, for he is a man haunted by a past he scarcely survived, this section lacks the powerful punch of the first half. Frustratingly it shifts into melodrama in a manner that almost undermines the vitality of the first act.The pacy exploration of suffering is dropped in favour of lots of sitting around, talking and making speeches.
With an overlong second act that drains the energy of the first this is a well-intended treaty of a true story. The film closes with documentary footage of the real players in the story – there’s so much power in such a short clip that you can’t help but wish they had made a documentary instead of fiction.
‘Lion’ opened in UK cinemas on 20th Jan.
Year: 2017 Run time:120 minutes Dir: Garth Davis