I never thought that one day I’d be getting choked up watching someone’s emotional state spiral out of control on the canvas of Google Earth, but such is the mastery of Lion, the cinematic adaptation of the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose, from director Gareth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies.
Born into poverty in India, Saroo Brierley found himself separated from his family at the age of five, lost more than a thousand miles from home. Declared abandoned he was eventually adopted by an Australian couple and left India, but two decades later Brierley set out to find his home using Google Earth and his vague recollections of the incident years prior.
Lion is visually and emotionally sprawling, but more notably it harkens back to a notion I’d all but forgotten – the idea that more than a commodity, more than a novelty at the tip of our fingers, information is a tool that can move mountains.
The first half of the film concerns the incident that sees Brierley separated from his family. Here Saroo, played by phenom Sunny Pawar, is limited to his five senses and the faculties of a child. His intake of information is a drizzle at best. He can’t get a view over the Bengali crowds without climbing up poles. He can’t understand the Bengali language. He can’t pronounce the name of the village he’s from. Without information he’s left to live on the streets, left to the mercy of throngs of adults who are sometimes villainous, sometimes charitable, but mostly entirely uncaring.
In the second half of the film Saroo, now played by Dev Patel, has family, friends and a support system, but he also has the whole of the internet at his disposal. Rather than waiting desperately from stray drops from a faucet, his information flow is more akin to trying to drink from a fire hydrant with a straw. Saroo grows into a capable adult with a loving family, but it is his access to information that allows him to truly immerse himself in the hunt for home.
Lion is an incredibly moving, emotionally rich film, but it is also an eloquent reminder of the power at our fingertips and the miracles it can be harnessed to achieve.