Lion (Garth Davis, 2016): Australia

Reviewed by Katrina Storton. Viewed at AFI Film Festival 2016.

Director Garth Davis awes audiences with his first feature film Lion. Garth Davis is well known for his commercials, his short films and being a co-director for the award winning show Top of the Lake (2013-). Lion is an impressive first feature film as the cast, the acting and execution are all of the highest quality. After watching the film at the 2016 AFI Film Festival, everyone left the theatre amazed from what they had just seen. I never heard a single ill-spoken opinion towards the film during the entire week nor from film critics online.

Lion follows the story of Saroo (Young version played by Sunny Pawar and older version played by Dev Patel), a boy from the Ganesh Tilai neighborhood of Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. 5 year old Saroo tags along with his older brother Guddu to try and find some odd jobs 40 odd miles away from home, in the city of Burhanpur. The trip exhausts Saroo to where he falls asleep on a bench on the train platform. Guddu lets his brother sleep and promises to return soon. Saroo wakes up and and sees his brother has not returned, he finds a train parked in the station and believes his brother is on it. Saroo boarded an out of commission train that ended up traveling for days without stopping. When the train finally stopped, Saroo was 930 miles away from home. Saroo, lost, confused and a long way from home learned to live on his own until being brought to the police and sent to a center for abandoned children where he was adopted by a family from Tasmania, Australia (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham).

The film is based off Saroo Brierley’s novel “A Long Way Home” and true life story of him being a lost child, being adopted and eventually trying to find his way back home. Saroo was also a screenplay writer for the film and a large part in the film’s decision making process which is suitable as it is a story of his life.

Lion portrays Saroo’s story incredibly well. Garth Davis truly encapsulated the raw emotions of Saroo’s tale. Every step of the way the audience was attached to Saroo, they understood his journey, his choices and his emotions. The audience members could relate in some way as everyone can put themselves in Saroo’s position. Parents or grandparents connected to the story, imagining it was their child or grandchild. People connected with the film thinking about what if it was them or their sibling. One aspect that truly made you connect with Saroo was being able to see his thought process and his memories. You see Saroo when he was 5 and then see him grow into adulthood and see him pursue his quest to reconnect with his family. You watch him grow and become emotionally attached to him. When Saroo is in the heat of his search, trying to connect dots and remember things from so long ago, his memories fuse with current day. What I mean by this, is that adult Saroo can walk a path in Australia that is geographically similar to what he remembers when he was lost. He is then able to see his younger self walking the same path. This is the technique he uses, in a sense, to retrace his memories. Technically there is no editing here as it is the older and younger actors sharing the screen. However, when in the film, you forget they are actors and instead you see the fusion of present and past working together for the future.

Cast and crew of Lion at AFI Film Festival. Cast and crew of Lion at AFI Film Festival.

At the end of the film everyone was taken on an emotional journey. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre by the end of the film. A truly beautiful story with a wonderful ending. The cast of Lion (Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara) and Saroo Brierley himself joined the audience afterwards for a brief Q&A bringing in more insight on the emotions and process of the film and Saroo’s journey.

Another thing the film brought attention to was how over 80,000 children go missing in India each year. Lion is collaborating with extraordinary organizations to support children in India and around the world. You can enter your e-mail on lionmovie.com for updates on how the film is helping protect street children and how you can help us in making a difference.

I highly suggest going to see Lion as it will be out this Friday, the 25th of November, 2016.

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