This month’s theme (essentially “Hey, this film made me think of you”) has unintentionally been the ultimate exercise in trust. “Hey, let’s watch this emotional sucker punch of a film because I know how much you like a good reminder of how broken your feelings are” is one interpretation of this week’s pick. However, I believe the intention with Lion is along the lines of “Hey, I know you like films with a realistic yet affirming story and rich emotional complexity, plus Nicole Kidman’s cool.”
/Also I may have suggested this one for the blog before but have lacked the emotional willpower to follow through and watch it. That stops today.
Based on the true story of a young man, raised in Tasmania by his adopted family, who used Google Earth to find his biological family in a small Indian village over 25 years later.
Saroo lives with his mother, sister, and brother in rural India. The family does what it can to scrape by–Saroo’s mother carries rocks, while Sarro and his brother Guddu performing the dangerous work of stealing coal from moving trains. Saroo is especially close with his brother and always wants to be included whenever Guddu goes off alone to bring home something the family can trade for food.
One evening, Saroo insists on going along with his brother on a mysterious errand at the train station. However, Saroo is unable to stay awake and falls asleep at the station. When he wakes up, Saroo is on a moving train that doesn’t stop for days. Eventually, the train stops in Calcutta and a lost Saroo has no idea how to return home.
After months of life on the streets dodging all manner of characters with ill intentions, a young man helps him talk to the police. The police don’t recognize the name of his village and post his picture in hopes of someone claiming him. Unfortunately, these efforts fail, and Saroo is sent to an orphanage that makes Dickens look tame.
Eventually, an Australian couple adopt Saroo and later, his brother Mantosh. As they grow up, it becomes clear that Mantosh is a deeply troubled child who later turns to drugs.
The family dynamics become strained further when, after completing his university education, Saroo secretly determines to find his biological family. Though his girlfriend Lucy believes his family should know what’s going on, Saroo insists it would hurt his mother too much to learn the truth.
If you saw any of the trailers for this film or have seen any films that avoid an entirely nihilistic ending, you can probably guess whether Saroo is able to locate his family (plus I’ve never heard of anyone writing a book about looking for their biological family and then not finding them). However, I challenge you to feel emotionally ready for the ending of this film because, unless your heart is made of stone, it will not happen.
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Though the plot is fairly straightforward, this film kept me engaged throughout as it battered my feelings. It asks quite involved questions about the nature of family, privilege, identity, and loss.
Because this is a story driven by the experiences and feelings of its characters, the casting is so important here–and it’s perfect. Dev and Nicole really stand out in their roles, and of course Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child. He conveys so much emotion with his eyes and comes across as very genuine in some really devastating scenes. I don’t even like kids, but I wanted to reach through the screen and hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay.
Possibly my only criticism is that Rooney Mara is almost entirely wasted in her role as the supportive girlfriend. She has charisma here but not a lot to work with–it’s not even clear to me what she does in later scenes except go jogging and lecture Saroo about being honest with his family. While she’s of course not the focus of the story, it would’ve been nice to see her fleshed out as a character and given more personality.
Everything else about this one is beautiful, though.