By Ábel Bede
Young Saroo gets lost in India on a train that takes him a thousand kilometres away from his home. After spending time in an orphanage, he is adopted by an Australian family in which he can start a new life. It is all going perfectly well until an encounter with a familiar culture takes him back and triggers a desire to find his mother and where he came from.
The film was nominated for six Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and Cinematography), so when I went into the cinema I had high expectations. I expected to see a powerful film about a person’s search for his own past. Lion had the potential to tackle some highly relevant themes, yet it only manages to deliver an emotional and well-acted story without attempting to answer any of the more complex questions of identity and belonging.
The main problem of the film is that it tries to be two films at once. One is about a child getting lost and travelling through the harshest parts of India; the other tries to tell a man’s struggle to find out where he comes from. One hour is enough to tell the first one which is undoubtedly the better half of the film, but takes valuable time away from the second act. Even though this part of the film contains minimal dialogue, its perfect pacing, wonderful cinematography and the exceptional performance of Sunny Pawar manage to tell the heartbreaking and seemingly hopeless tale of a lost and desperate Indian boy.
Unfortunately, the second part fails to equal the quality of the first one. This is only natural, since this story would have needed much more time to tell. In contrast to part one, here the film rushes and does not give enough time for its content to unfold. We only get to see glimpses of the person Saroo has become and the moments of the struggle he goes through during his search, therefore his sacrifice and inner fight only gets through thanks to Dev Patel’s excellent performance, which is at its best during the dinner when he starts to remember his previous life.
Nicole Kidman, however short her role may be, also deserves her nomination for the role of an unstable mother who has absolutely unconditional love for her adopted children. An extra half an hour would have been necessary to get to know the characters or build upon the conflicts more. In the film’s current form Rooney Mara’s presence, for example, is absolutely pointless.
Despite the film’s problems with elaborating on its content, it is emotionally powerful. It obviously tries to pull at the heartstrings and manages to do so in a tasteful manner. It not only appeals to the audience’s emotions but portrays the character’s emotional states perfectly as well. Saroo projects his own guilt about letting his family down on to his adopted brother, whom he also dislikes because he represents the failure Saroo does not want to be. Their Australian mother is desperate to keep the family together and refuses to admit any problems because she blames herself for them. These conflicts are the highlights of the film, however unfortunately, just like many other things, they are not properly unfolded.
All in all, Lion is a powerful film with splendid performances that will have strong emotional effects on its viewers after leaving the cinema. Unfortunately, it fails to deal with the questions it raises and the conflicts it portrays. Therefore, unlike Saroo by his mother, it will probably be forgotten by audiences in a few years, which is a shame given it had much more potential.
‘Lion’ is now showing at Durham’s Gala Cinema.
Photograph: Entertainment Film