Lion, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

Grab your tissues, folks, because even though you know what to expect from the main plot points of Lion, you’ll be caught off guard by this beautiful and evocative film.

Based on the real-life story (and adapted from the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley), Lion tells the dramatic and heart-wrenching tale of five-year-old Saroo. Born into a poor but happy family in rural India, Saroo gets separated from his older brother at a train station and accidentally ends up trapped and alone on a decommissioned passenger train headed for Calcutta, 1500 miles away from home.

Upon his arrival in Calcutta, he tries in earnest to get back to his family. Except he doesn’t speak the local dialect, he doesn’t know his full name, and he doesn’t know the correct name of his region or the train station he started at. Eventually he realizes getting home is a lost cause and resigns himself to a new life on the streets. My heart broke repeatedly as young Saroo was ignored and dismissed by all the adults around him as he tried in vain to return home and had to learn how to fend for himself on the hostile streets of a polluted and overpopulated city.

Fast forward 25 years. Saroo, having been adopted and raised by a loving family in New Zealand, is a well-adjusted and successful young adult studying hotel management. Newly made friends from India encourage him to reconnect with his roots. Suddenly, a flood of memories return and Saroo is plagued by thoughts of his family of origin and their anguish in not knowing where he is. He nears the edge of mental illness, drives away his girlfriend, quits his job and tries in vain to reconstruct his journey as a lost five-year-old in the hopes of finally finding his birthplace and his family.

The entire cast of Dev Patel (Saroo), Sunny Pawar (Young Saroo), David Wenham (adoptive father John Brierley), Nicole Kidman (adoptive mother Sue Brierley), Rooney Mara (girlfriend Lucy), and Priyanka Bose (mother Kamla) have standout performances.

The entire film was an emotional rollercoaster. The motherly love, joy and anguish of both Sue and Kamla and their respective journeys to support Saroo was visceral. The desperation Saroo felt when he realized his predicament was palpable. And the (spoiler alert) joy and unbridled ecstatic and exultant happiness felt by Saroo and Kamla at their reunion made my heart swell and overflow… and then don’t even get me started on the waterworks that flowed when the real life footage of Kamla and Sue appeared in the credits.

After the film, I continue to find myself musing about life and the strange and unexpected twists and turns that each person’s journey can take. How at times life can be scary and overwhelming, like when Saroo first found himself alone on the streets in an unfamiliar city, and it can also be magical and effervescent, like when Saroo enjoyed an afternoon in a familiar field surrounded by migrating butterflies. And of course there is the cast of characters that all have a role to play in all our experiences – helping us understand the world around us and our place in it. Whether these characters appear as villains or saviours, they all have an important role to play in our growth and development. The love and stability the Brierleys offer Saroo in New Zealand is all the more sweeter after his desperate and lonely experiences on the streets in India. The reunion between Saroo and Kamla is so much more uplifting and joyous because of the darkness and desperation Saroo experiences trying to recreate his path to her.

Perhaps the experience of darkness and separation are required in order to experience light and connection. Are you able to experience the darkness, and know and trust that the light will eventually appear?

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature