Of all of this year's Best Picture nominations Lion was the film that I wasn't rushing to see. However, with only a few films left to go on my quest to see all the contenders I took my seat and might just have seen the dark horse of the bunch seeking to claim the coveted prize.
In 1986, Saroo is five years old and the middle child of a poor but happy rural Indian family. After asking his brother to come and work 'night jobs' with him, Saroo finds himself alone and trapped in a moving decommissioned passenger train arriving in Calcutta, 1500 miles away from home. Utterly lost and unable to speak Bengali in an alien urban environment he is too young to identify either himself or his home to the authorities, Saroo struggles to survive as a street child until he is sent to an orphanage.
After all attempts to trace his family fail, Saroo is selected for adoption by the Brierley family in Tasmania, where he grows up in a loving, prosperous home. However, for all his material good fortune, Saroo finds himself plagued by memories of his lost family and tries to search for them. Smothered with guilt he hides this quest from his adoptive parents not wanting to seem ungrateful for all their love and support. Only when he has an epiphany does he realize not only the answers he needs, but also the steadfast love that he has always had.
I didn't expect Lion to have quite the impact it did. To watch a child become separated from its family was a very uncomfortable experience and perhaps this was because, as a parent myself, it is a traumatic scenario. Sunny Pawar who plays the young Saroo does so with real heart and great power. His facial expressions alone are worth the admission price as they draw such great emotion from the viewer.
The truth tragically, is that the many of the dangerous elements that Saroo encounters are very real. The film stresses this at its conclusion pointing the audience to its website where information regarding relevant charities can be found. The opportunity is also available to make donations in order to help other street children who face these perils.
Dev Patel takes up the role of Saroo for the film's second half and puts in a great performance too. Wrestling with his desire to find his family in India without rejecting the love and support of his adoptive family the weight of the decision is visible on his shoulders. While the hunt for home does feel a little long at times, his performance and difficult interactions with his adopted mother (Nicole Kidman) are well handled throughout.
This is a story about family, unconditional love and the journey home. Beautiful, harrowing and deeply moving this in-depth look at overcoming the odds could just upset the Oscar race and defy the odds one more time.