Lion Roars Into Cinemas
A review by Chris Mundy
Every adoption story is unique and deeply personal. It’s important to keep
this in mind as one views Lion, the movie adaptation of the biography
A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley.
This is Saroo’s story and despite being played out by such prominent actors such as
Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel, David Wenham and Rooney Mara, to analyse another’s
adoption story is to tread on dangerous ground. Nonetheless this deeply personal
story has much to say about adoption to the wider public and adopted people.
Lion tells the story of, Saroo, a young boy residing in central India who becomes lost
while travelling by train with his brother Guddu. While experiencing a close relationship
with his family and single mother, Saroo is affected by poverty and his mother and older
brother are forced to help the family survive by any means possible.
Anyone who has travelled to India has some knowledge of the colour and chaos of
Indian culture and the film perfectly captures the essence of this thanks to the
cinematography of Oscar nominated Grieg Fraser. India has a population of 1.2 billion
people many of whom are struggling against the remnants of the caste system,
unemployment and intergenerational poverty.
Little Saroo becoming separated from his family on India’s train system is further
complicated by different regional dialects and he finds himself on the streets, vulnerable
and eventually institutionalised. Acting by 8 year old Sunny Pawar is stunning and heart wrenching throughout.
The institutionalisation of children in developing countries, particularly in state run orphanages is a growing concern across the globe. Many children placed in orphanages have surviving family members and are placed in institutions due to poverty and societal issues.
Children in orphanages are vulnerable to abuse, attachment disorders and mental health issues. While family reunification, kinship and foster care are preferred alternatives, Lion presents the difficulties faced by authorities and charities alike as they struggle with finding preferred outcomes for the 80,000 children that go missing in India each year. Intercountry adoption is presented as an alternative in the midst of this chaos.
Saroo is adopted by a couple in Tasmania along with another Indian child. Adopted people may experience mixed feelings as they watch the adopted family unfold.
Kidman and Wenham’s characters present as somewhat sanitised, Saroo a saintly child and his adoptive brother as deeply troubled. One wonders whether the role of compliant adoptee and rebellious adoptee is being played out within the family unit, however another possibility is that Saroo’s adoptive brother has experienced severe abuse and attachment related issues in institutions prior to his adoption while Saroo has experienced a strong maternal upbringing despite the trauma of being separated from his family. Whatever the circumstances, adoption creates unique challenges for family and parenting.
Saroo’s loyalty towards his adoptive parents is noted in the film and it is possible that they are presented so honourably because of a sense of adoptee gratitude by Saroo himself and his input into the film. His reassuring of his adoptive parents that “this changes nothing….” at the conclusion of the film can come across as somewhat naïve to those of us who have been on a journey of search and reunion however it is important to remind ourselves that this is Saroo’s personal journey and he is still travelling on it.
Some critics have raised the second half of the film has much slower pacing than the first half and the adoption search should have occurred more quickly. The second half gives the film integrity and adopted people will resonate strongly with it. Adopted people who make the decision to search know that searching is an inner and outer journey.
Dev Patel perfectly encapsulates these two struggles as he uses Google Earth to find his family in India while struggling with the relationships around him as he discovers his true identity, wrestles with the pull between his ‘Australian self’ and `Indian self’ and life as an adult intercountry adoptee in multicultural Australia.
Bring your tissues as Lion is deeply moving for all viewers and especially triggering for those affected by adoption. The film is a reminder that everyone’s adoption journey is unique, personal, powerful and lifelong.