‘Lion’ Drives Story With Minimum Dialogue, Maximum Emotion

Mark Rogers Lion Cinematographer
Courtesy of Mark Rogers

Garth Davis’ Oscar-nominated “Lion” is essentially two films in one, the first half driven by visuals and backdrops, the second half by language and dialogue and the pervasive power of memory to help form our sense of cultural identity. Emotion is what holds these distinct, real-life stories together — one, the story of a boy who becomes separated from his family and everything he knows in the world; the other a story about that same boy, now a grown man, struggling to find his way home.

When “Lion” starts out Saroo is 5 years old and living in dirt-floor squalor in central India with his family. All the dialogue is in Hindi. India, through sweeping shots of its burnt-sienna landscape and people dressed in traditional jewel-toned garb, becomes a central character.

We experience the world through Saroo’s wide-eyed stare, the way his chocolate brown eyes light up at the smell of deep-fried jilebis at the market and the desperate manner in which he tugs at his elder brother’s shirt, aching to taste the round sugary treat that they cannot afford.

When Saroo finds himself on an empty, out-of-service train barreling across the tracks toward places unknown, it’s the tears spilling down his face and the sounds of that train — the hiss and screech of its breaks, the clack of its dust-covered seats — that intensify his mounting panic.

Alone in the streets of Kolkota, Saroo winds up in an orphanage where another boy bangs his head against the wall, he’s so tortured and abused, and the children sing themselves to sleep each night. It’s the looks on their faces as they quietly sing, forlorn and hopeless, that capture the daily horror of their lives.

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  1. Pooja says:

    Yet to release here in India. Eagerly waiting for this movie to watch the young actor Sunny Pawar’s acting.

  2. lizziebeth1 says:

    Malina Saval,

    Your article is misleading:
    “…another boy bangs his head against the wall, he’s so tortured and abused”… refers to another **autistic** boy in the orphanage who was simply upset for unknown reasons, yet **much like** the grown-up Saroo’s adoptive brother in Australia. That was the point of that scene!

    It was another boy selected as a paedophile’s subject from the orphanage, prompting Saroo’s little girlfriend to claim that it was “a bad place”.
    And that was the point of **that** scene.

    This is called “laying pipe” (foreshadowing plot). Ahem.

    The film deserves better analysis than calling it “two different stories”…. what it IS is a slightly too drawn-out thread of Saroo’s early life, with no hint of the fate of his young brother who “left him” at the station. But what the film excels at is not whitewashing the foibles of the adult Saroo, who clearly never told his wondrously deserving adoptive parents what his life story was!! (Ridiculous.)

    In fact, his obssessive grooving on his past almost cost him his (new, but at the time, only) family, not to mention his long-suffering terrific girlfriend.

    This film should be seen as a bio of male mental ill health! Here in Australia we even have a monthlong promotion for it for charity, the “Movember” movement, to focus attention on the special needs of men and their declining mental struggle with being, well, typically white and privileged, yet still terribly confused and unhappy. Ahem again, with the proviso that the adult Saroo was merely **pseudo-white** (Aussies call that a “Clayton’s”). Sigh. He nearly destroys his wonderful new family just so he can “repent” for having gotten lucky. Such male (foolish) mentality…

    But **that** is the subtext of Lion (2016) while it’s ostensibly an emotional biopic about a VERY CUTE little boy lost for 23yrs.

    The screenplay is emotional, clued-in, and honest; a delicate and worthy Oscar contender.

    Even Nic Kidman does probably the best acting of her life, because she surmounts her usual capacities as a cold fish (she’s good here).

    But the film is Dev Patel’s, who is a “spunk-rat” (Aussie slang for “hot”) in this. He **worked out** for this, no doubt, no doubt.

    So there we have it. Much to see, almost all of it really rewarding.

    Oscar material.

    Everyone, esp. men, should should go and see this!

    Cheers from sunny Sydney.

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