Honesty is a difficult quality for movies because the whole basis of the film production process is rooted in dishonesty: people pretending to be other people, stories that never really happened, sets that aren’t real places. This is why early film auteur George Melies’ films were firmly rooted in fantasy. If you’re going to lie to people for the purpose of entertainment, go all out.
So a film like Lion stands apart from the pack in how emotionally honest it strives to be with its subject. Is there artistic license taken with this based-on-a-true-story story? Sure. But its soul is honest and the story seems to stay accurate to the real account from what I’ve researched.
Lion tells the incredible true story of Saroo Brierly, who as a 5-year-old in a poor village of India, fell asleep on an empty train which then took him to the opposite side of the country where he couldn’t speak the language. After short-lived attempts to figure out where he came from fail, he is put in an orphanage and adopted by an Australian couple. As an adult, Saroo decides to use Google Earth and his few memories to find where he came from.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal. Dev Patel as the grown Saroo deserves the awards attention he is getting and spent 8 months transforming physically and emotionally into Saroo. Nicole Kidman is excellent as his adoptive mother Sue, surely drawing from her own personal experiences as an adoptive mother. Sunny Pawar brings an incredible energy and authenticity as the young Saroo, and Rooney Mara brings dimension to a character who is an amalgamation of real-life people, which usually has the effect of making the character flat.
The script by debut director Garth Davis is also exceptional as is the score by team Vokel Bertelman and Dustin O’Halloran. I applaud the producers for refusing to compromise the story by keeping the family as Australian – several American production companies rejected them for not wanting to change the adoptive family to American.
My main complaint is the editing, which feels disjointed and struggles to synthesize the story as a whole. However, given the nature of the story and the consistency of the editing style, I can’t help but to think it is an intentional artistic choice to, in some ways, put the audience in a state of unease. In that way, it could be seen as a strength though I am more of a traditionalist in my editing preferences.
While I give this a 4 out of 5, I almost gave it a 4.5 due to its emotional impact and authenticity. As an adoptive dad, some moments bordered on feeling almost too-real for a movie.
Lion is destined to be remembered as one of 2016’s best films. I highly recommend it for anyone, but especially as required viewing for adoptive and pre-adoptive parents, though tissues should be kept handy. Its handling of adoption/culture shock is brutal and beautiful all at once. Plus, you have to see it to understand its title. I’m not spoiling that one bit.