Lion ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Five-year-old Saroo lives with his mother, his older bother, Guddu, and his younger sister, Shekila, in a small village in India. The family is poor but loving and close-knit. Saroo’s mother can’t read or write. Saroo and his brother scavenge coal and exchange the coal for food. When Guddu goes out at night to look for work, Saroo insists that Guddu takes him along. When Saroo becomes sleepy, Guddu leaves him on a bench at the railroad station. Many hours later when Saroo wakes up, Guddu hasn’t returned. There is nobody around at all, so we assume it’s the middle of the night.
In looking for Guddu, Saroo boards an abandoned train that is just sitting there. He falls asleep on a bench on the train and when he wakes up the train is in motion. He’s locked in and can’t get out and can’t get anybody to hear his cries for help. Two days later the train is 1600 kilometers away in Calcutta. Saroo is alone in the big, frightening city. He, of course, doesn’t know where he is, nor does he understand how he got there. He is just alone on the streets with hundreds of other children in similar circumstances.
Saroo experiences kindness from strangers, but he also knows that he must be wary of them. A seemingly kind woman takes him in and feeds him and gives him a place to sleep, but Saroo overhears that she is going to give him to a man, for what purpose Saroo doesn’t know. Another kind man spots Saroo on the street outside a restaurant and takes him to the police. The police question him about where he comes from, but they speak a different language, so Saroo isn’t able to tell them anything. When he says the name of his village, they don’t know what he’s talking about.
After months on the streets of Calcutta, Saroo ends up in an orphanage. The orphanage people try to reconnect him with his family by running ads in Calcutta newspapers, but nobody comes forward to claim Saroo. A kind welfare woman informs Saroo that a couple in Australia wants to adopt him.
Saroo travels to Australia and is taken into the home of John and Sue (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman), an almost-too-good-to-be true, middle-class Australian couple. (David Wenham played a pumped-up Greek warrior in the movie 300.) Twenty years go by and Saroo grows into a man. He is smart, decent and respectful, everything John and Sue hoped he would be. Sue tells Saroo after he is grown that she and John opted not to have any children of their own. “There are already enough people in the world,” she says. When she was twelve years old, she says, she had a “vision” that one day she would take a “brown-skinned” child into her home and give him a better chance at life.
As happy and well-adjusted as Saroo is as an adult, he can’t forget his family back in India. He becomes obsessed with finding them again and letting them know what happened to him. When somebody tells him about Google maps on the Internet, he spends many hours looking for clues to where he came from. Even if he finds the place, he has no guarantee that his family will still be there, or that they are still alive.
Finally, his searching pays off. He recognizes features on Google maps that he recognizes from childhood. When he learns the name of the place, he knows it’s what he was trying to say, but he was saying it wrong. He travels to the place in India that he has located by way of Google maps. More than twenty-five years have gone by since he disappeared. What will he find when he returns to his childhood home?
We never know where Lion is taking us. Where we end up is not where we expected to be. It’s an engaging and emotional (real emotion as opposed to melodrama) movie with many fine touches. If you are capable of being moved by the plight of a homeless five-year-old boy in the slums of Calcutta, India, you will be moved by Saroo. He’s like a little animal with a haunting voice and enormous brown eyes. He loves his mother, his sister, and his brother, and he wants desperately to find them.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp