Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog


Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 31, 2016 at 6:00 PM

LION   ***1/2

Garth Davis




IDEA:  In 1986 in India, a young boy is inadvertantly carried thousands of miles away from his home on a train. Adopted and raised by an Australian couple, he uses Google Earth some 20 years later to locate his home and reunite with his mother.

BLURB:  The pleasures and exceptional catharsis of Lion derive from the simple, not-to-be-underestimated satisfaction of closure. This isn’t so much the satisfaction of narrative closure as it is of a deeper, much harder to realize psychical closure; an against-all-odds fantasy closure whose biographical truth paradoxically makes it all the more fantastical, and gratifying. What Lion taps into, via its astonishing real-life tale of a man’s reunion with his mother and sister 25 years after he went missing as a child, is the desire for a primal resolution that entails a return to one’s origins – to the familiar geography of home, to the warm embrace of a mother who is still there to receive you. Its emphasis is on an inviolable bond that time and distance constantly fail to sever. The first half of the film, led by the remarkably self-possessed Sunny Pawar, is all about the spatial disorientation and terrifying dislocation of a boy taken far from home. Long, wordless passages of the little Pawar alternately wandering, napping, and running amidst the dense urban activity of Kolkata have a straightforwardly affective force, even as Davis perhaps struggles (who wouldn’t?) to represent the full terror of the events he depicts. The film’s second half, taking place 20 years later, is his and screenwriter Luke Davies’ best accomplishment: avoiding the pitfalls that often hamper bifurcated or time-jumping stories, they deepen and complicate Saroo’s journey by poignantly folding in the accumulated weight of memory and guilt. Any worry that the abrupt shift to an adult Saroo will rupture our identification or engagement is handily allayed by Dev Patel, whose full-hearted, emotionally transparent performance – and rapport with the radiant, generously nuanced Kidman and Mara – imbues what could have so easily been a facilely uplifting final act with rich, variegated, unfiltered human feeling. Watching him as his suppressed memories slowly resurface, galvanizing him to complete his journey, is a uniquely cinematic pleasure. His closure feels like ours.

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About the Author

Jonathan Leithold-Patt is a cinephile, film critic, and artist.

Contact at [email protected]

Devoted to the Movies