Who Knew the Google Could Be So Soul-Searching?

(Australia, 118 min.)
Dir. Garth Davis, Writ. Luke Davies
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar
David Wenham, Dev Patel, and Nicole Kidman in Lion, an Entertainment One release.
Photo: Mark Rogers

The extraordinary homecoming of Saroo Brierley gets a lively adaptation in Lion. This take on Brierley’s A Long Way Home gets an enthralling jolt of life under the director of Garth Davis and in the care of some gifted actors. Brierley’s memoir reads more like a series of collected blog posts than it does a book, which is fine since it tells a great story, but A Long Way Home lacks a magical spark as the author’s prose simply recounts the events in here’s-what-happened fashion. Lion, however, gives Brierley’s story a pulse as Davis makes the viewer feel Saroo’s story to experience his loss and then his sense of peace while finding his way home.

Davis begins the story in the streets and train stations of India as the young Brierley, played in his early years by an exceptionally talented Sunny Pawar, loses his way on a train and finds himself lost in the streets of New Delhi—over 1000km from home. The film progresses as the young boy gets adopted by the Brierley family in Tasmania and he lives a relatively happy life until the ache inside him tugs too strongly to ignore. Cut to Saroo’s adult years and the grown up boy, now played by a Dev Patel in a strong lead role, decides to find his way home via an exhaustive search using Google Earth. Saroo takes the fragments of memories of home that remain from his youth and he scours the Internet, analysing the bird’s eye view of India frame by frame.

Computers can often put great stories in dramatic vacuums as protagonists sit at screens and type keys, but Lion edits Saroo’s hunt with verve and energy as the intricate cutting of the film brings the boy home. Davis contrasts shots of Saroo staring longingly at the images of Google Earth with shots of the young Saroo zipping through the streets of India. The crosscutting affords action where Saroo sits inert and the frequent images of India, buoyed by a propulsive and euphoric score, let one experience the young man’s pull back home.

Lion gets a strong emotional punch from Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother, Sue. Kidman’s character undergoes a journey of her own as Sue’s radiance fades with the years. She changes from a woman of warmth and grace to one hardened by life. Saroo’s adoptive brother, Manoj, is a difficult child who bears emotional scars from his past in India, and raising him proves a strain for Sue as she remains devoted to a boy who rebuffs her love. Sue’s selfless love for Saroo gives Lion its heart as he risks betraying the one who loves him most in his much-needed search to reconnect with the mother he lost. The restraint of Kidman’s heartfelt performance is perfectly measured, though, and she never takes over Saroo’s search.

Sue’s own emotional journey towards finding happiness in her adoption of the two boys finds redemption in Saroo’s own devotion to his adopted mother: it says something about good parenting when kids travel halfway around the world to see their mum. Saroo, on the other hand, embarks on a journey shared by many children of the diaspora as he seeks to bridge the disconnect between the two places he calls home. Lion is, on the one hand, an outstanding example of the wizardry of contemporary communication and a profound story of self-discovery on the other. It’s an incredible story and wonderfully, refreshingly human one every step of the way. Who knew that the Google could be so soul-searching?

Lion is now playing in theatres.