The IMDb trivia for Lion states that lead actor “Dev Patel had to develop a new physique to portray Saroo and attended several hours in the gym in order to inhabit his part. He also grew a beard…” Which is weird, because the end of the film includes the obligatory sequence of photos showing the real-life people involved with the event, and I was struck by how little Patel’s character resembled the real-life (notably pudgier and beardless) Saroo. Of course, by the time the end of this movie arrives, you’ll probably have abandoned your hope for things that make sense.
Five-year-old Saroo lives with his mother Kamla, older brother Guddu, and baby sister Shekila in rural India. They live a very modest life, so Saroo and Guddu try help bring in extra money any way they can. One night, Guddu sneaks out to see if he can find work. Saroo goes with him, but is too tired to work so Guddu leaves him to sleep on a bench at a train station. There’s a passenger train parked there, and Saroo boards it to sleep. When he wakes, the train is moving, and it turns out the train has been decommissioned and is being piloted, without any passengers, across the country. When he finally gets off a couple of days later, he’s in Calcutta, a large city where they speak Bengali rather than Hindi, and where homeless children are not uncommon. He doesn’t know where he’s from, or even his mother’s name, but it doesn’t seem like people would be all that intent in trying to reunite him with his family even if he did know all the relevant information.
Saroo is ultimately placed in an orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple (played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Jump ahead twenty years, and Saroo (now played by Patel) has been living a pretty posh life. Then he’s struck with a memory from his early childhood, and suddenly he remembers that he’s not from Australia or from Calcutta, and he becomes obsessed with finding his real home. This simultaneously turns him into a dick and a moron, and he abandons the people he cares about to spend all his time on Google Earth.
This movie was all set to be predictably mediocre. By the time the plot reveals itself, you know how it’s going to end, and there’s no chance of anything truly surprising. But at least you can hope that it’ll be a worthwhile journey. Maybe some of that hope will even survive the film’s glacial pacing. But when the main character takes his turn into the completely unbearable, and after you’ve had to overlook a couple of “why don’t they just…” moments, you’ll probably realize that you aren’t going to get anything more than uncomfortable tedium. Kidman does a good job, and she even looks like her real-life counterpart, but there’s really not much else to say about the rest of the film.