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Lion (2016) Review


Nominated for six Academy Awards, this multi-lingual, intercontinental story may certainly be the year’s most effective—and certainly heart-rending—cinematic depiction of placelessness, all surrounding a single man on his journey home.

Rating: 4/4

Another Look at the Best—and Less So—of 2016

Series Description: While the season leading up to the Oscars may often instill a strong wish in cinephiles and normal people alike to re-immerse themselves in the year’s greatest films, very often, many of the truly great films from the year are left out of the spotlight. In this series, up until the big night, I’ll review some of the many renowned independent films of the year that may not necessarily be on the traditional pre-Oscars watchlist.


The structure of Garth Davis’ Lion (2016) is perhaps the best depiction of the protagonist, Saroo (Sunny Pawar). To start, Davis eases viewers into the film with comforting glances at the Indian countryside and of Saroo’s beautiful—albethey often inglorious—escapades with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) as they look for work to supplement the income of their starving mother (Shankar Nisode).

But, within moments, when Guddu leaves him alone in a train station for too long, Saroo is swept across the subcontinent, lying in an unoccupied passenger train by himself for days until he reaches Calcutta, West Bengal. There, unable to identify his illiterate mother nor his hometown by name, he lives in an orphanage, until an Australian couple (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) takes him in and raises him alongside his adopted brother, Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav).

Suddenly, the plot of the story shifts to twenty years later, as older Saroo (Dev Patel) must reconcile his newly conventional, economically privileged life, all while perseverating in visualizing and aching for his lost, abandoned home.

The score, composed by Hauschka and Dustin O’Halloran, oscillates between a musical embodiment of the endless chaos of the running train—with loud and screeching noises, horns, and strings providing eerie reminders of his trauma—and of rickety piano arpeggios in moments of supposed calmness. It very much succeeds in maintaining unease and suspense throughout nearly the entire film.

The greatest success of Lion is its picture-perfect depiction of displacement, of the nearly impossible task of wholly acclimating to a new culture. Throughout the film, Saroo struggles with having forgotten his own language, and aching with discomfort at the thought of eating the precious cuisine he once cherished as a child. Via eyeline matches, we watch older Saroo gazing with nostalgia and pain at the topography of his lost home, at faded memories of the bodies of his family members, and at his past life. If these rapidfire, mid-conversation flashbacks preach one aspect of Saroo’s ever-changing character, it is that he will always maintain the heart of a lion, even if it means shedding tears along the way.

Running Time: 2 hours.

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