Here we have it. This is it. This is the reason I go to the movies. I go to the movies because, every once in a while, there’s a film – an experience – like Lion. I often say that the ultimate goal of any film should be to make the viewer feel something. Anything. Happiness. Sadness. Excitement. Amusement. It doesn’t matter. But, sometimes, a movie goes above and beyond and makes the viewer feel as though they, themselves, are a part of the story – that it’s their very own lives and futures at stake. It’s rare. And it’s extremely difficult to achieve that as a filmmaker. But, director Garth Davis succeeds beyond all reasonable expectations.
Lion is adapted from the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly. Saroo is actually a character in the film, played initially by Sunny Pawar and then eventually by Dev Patel. That, of course, is because Lion tells Saroo’s incredible true story. I don’t want to go into what that story is, in case you are unaware (as I was). If you want to spoil it for yourself, do it elsewhere. I’ll have no part in dampening the experience of seeing the film for you. But it’s an absolutely mesmerizing story of survival and family that our culture quite frankly needs, right now.
I tend to go through the individual aspects of the film that made an impression on me, one-by-one, specifying what I did like and what I didn’t. I don’t feel like that would be a fair approach to Lion. It all works. All of it. And while, if the components were analyzed individually, they would all score high marks, this film is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Because all of those component work together to construct a touching, moving, emotional experience that reminds us all of what’s truly important in life. But, to improve upon that, the film doesn’t only remind us of what is important, but also why.
One of Lion‘s primary competitors in this ongoing award season is the excellent Moonlight. I was actually reminded of that film as I watched Lion due to similarities in the story structure. Moonlight tells the story of a single character at different points in his life, and Lion does the same. Both movies are excellent, but I felt more of a connection to Lion. That, of course, will vary from person to person but I really identified with Lion‘s themes of loneliness and family. I expect those themes would resonate with a vast majority of the general moviegoing audience, as well.
Having the opportunity to witness Saroo’s childhood experiences truly contributes a sense of warmth towards the character after he grows up. We saw his hardships and lived through them alongside him. When we get the chance to see him as an adult, there’s almost a sense of pride and respect towards him. He did it! He got through all of that and has apparently emerged just fine on the other side. But, has he really? Or is his baggage still weighing him down?
The film builds and builds towards a powerful, memorable climax and it does so naturally and organically. There is nothing forced, as with Jackie. Both of those films are based on true stories, but only Lion feels entirely authentic. Even had the film been a fictional story, it would have been no less moving or affecting. True stories still need true artists to translate them for public presentation and everyone involved in this film displays true artistry. Had any single one of them, from Davis to the Foley artists, failed to deliver, then the impact at the finale would have been lessened.
Lion is the epitome of outstanding filmmaking – a rare emotional experience that will resonate with even the hardest of hearts. The film packs a punch and it does so as one complete package, working in aggregation, not as separate aspects that all function independently of each other. This is the kind of movie that people say they want. Well, here it is. Go see it. And, when you start feeling things you weren’t prepared to feel . . . just roll with it. That’s kind of the point of the whole thing.
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