Lion served as a lesson in not paying enough attention. The trailer, to me, showed a heartfelt story of a man looking for his mum and brother, having been separated from them at a young age by an unfortunate accident. This much is accurate. Dev Patel plays the adult Saroo attending university but increasingly distracted by a nagging instinct to find his family. Where I never paid enough attention was when the trailer focused on a young boy. For some reason I was convinced this was Dev Patel’s character’s brother, but he is actually the young Saroo played by Sunny Pawar. My preconceived notions were I would warm to Pawar as Patel’s sibling and want them to reconnect, when actually I had to readjust and learn to treat them as the one character.
This probably makes me an idiot.
It also led me to believe the film would focus on Patel, interspersed with flashbacks to what drove him apart from his family. Lion actually has a Room-like structure with the first half dedicated to young Saroo, and the latter half following his need to find home. Like Room, this leads to two different films in some ways. The first is a Spielbergian adventure tragedy, a lonesome tiny figure swamped by massive structures and swelling crowds, along with some Dickensian predicaments. The second is a psychologically tormented film as someone with a past who has adapted to life in Australia has his past demand confronting. Like Room, people will pick their preferences.
For me, the story of trying to find home is more riveting than that of becoming lost. Because of its split structure I would have liked more time exploring the foundations adult Saroo had in place before they begin to crumble as his obsession with home takes over. Rooney Mara’s Lucy is barely introduced before the two are in bed together – a warm and comforting figure sadly not given enough life due to the confined nature of that part of the film. Patel is excellent in every role, and this is no different. His ugly frustration never makes you doubt Saroo’s goodness, making him an extremely human character.
The young Pawar is a revelation in the first half. He is adorable and vulnerable, but also resourceful and intuitive. His life up until the time he is lost is of poverty and exploration, given him a fighting spirit that surely must be what gets him through. This hour makes for a great story, but simply a good film. It eats away at time better spent elsewhere preparing for him to try and find home.
Having Patel in the Best Supporting Actor category at the Golden Globes makes a lot more sense having seen Lion – he is only in half of it, and Pawar shines in the other, equally deserving of a nomination. Its half-and-half structure gets in the way of building to an emotional climax. I am quick to cry, but this highly emotional story provoked nothing from me, and given how exceptional the tale is, that is on the how the story is told.
Given that its presentation really was not what I thought it would be from the trailers, I might experience Lion in a whole new way when I have an inevitable rewatch. Lesson learned – pay a little more attention during the trailers. Great performances all round, a great story, but a good film.