Film review: Lionby James Robins
Based on a true story, Lion tells how an adoptee rediscovers his lost Indian family.
Escaping, he wanders for days, alone and small against the vastness of a burnt metropolis – a movement from sweet, bucolic upbringing to grim isolation that feels like a sledgehammer of sensation, at times paradoxically beautiful and adventurous. When Saroo is most trapped, his liberation arrives: an Australian couple (David Wenham and a red-permed Nicole Kidman) want to adopt him. Except that it never quite feels like a liberation; they seem more like thieves.
Nevertheless, the advantage of growing up in a well-off Australian household pays off when Saroo, “20 years later” and played by Dev Patel, emerges glistening from the Tasman Sea like a hairier Ursula Andress. It’s a strange introduction, and marks the point at which Lion starts to discard the impressionistic textures of its introduction.
The narrative thrust from here consists of a tired Saroo looking at his computer, consumed by memories of his childhood. With nothing but phonetic clues, he trawls the internet for a way back home. It gives our hero purpose, but the film begins losing momentum. Despite all the anxiety of Saroo’s yearning, it becomes clear we’re headed towards an inevitable reunion, a destiny that can never match the thumbscrew uncertainty of Lion’s opening act. The film treats loss viscerally and longing cheaply.
Regardless of its cynicism, this tactic seems to work on audiences, judging by the trumpeting around me in the theatre. But I will admit only to a mild clenching of the jaw, and not much else. •••
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