Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 58 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds,
and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Saroo (Dev Patel) is a young Indian man raised by Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) in Australia. He loves his adoptive parents, but he also longs to see his mother and older brother again, hence his long search for her. Like those described by Jesus in the above Scripture, he will need persistence. He was just 5 years-old when he became lost from his family, winding up aboard a train that took him to the other side of the vast Indian subcontinent.
Director Garth Davis’s film begins in 1986 with five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) atop a hill where he is fascinated by a swarm of butterflies. At the beck of his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), he runs after him to board a coal train. They fill a bag with coal, manage to jump off the train after an officer spots them, they sell the stolen coal and are able to buy some honey and milk. They arrive back home in the village of Khandwa to share the milk with their mother Kamla and little sister Shekila, but do not reveal where they obtained the money to buy the treasure.
One night when Guddu is slipping out to return to the railroad yard and travel to another town to find work, Saroo begs to go with him. Reluctant at first, Guddu gives in, but, as he had feared, at the station the little brother is too sleepy to go any further. Guddu leaves him on a bench and promises to return for him. When the boy awakens a few hours later, he is anxious to find his brother. He boards an empty passenger train in search of Guddu, but, not finding him, goes to sleep again. The train is moving when he wakes up, and he is not able to unlock the doors. The train is not in service, and thus does not make any stops until it reaches Calcutta, a thousand miles from his home. In its teeming streets, the boy encounters enough obstacles that in themselves could fill a film. The people speak Bengali, whereas Saroo’s language is Hindi. There are hundreds of other homeless children sleeping atop small sheets of cardboard in a tunnel. Police and other adults chase after the pack of boys. Food must be stolen. A seemingly kind woman shelters Saroo, only to call a man the next morning to look the boy over. Sensing the man wants to use him for some dark purpose, the boy runs away, disappearing into the crowds. Picked up by the police, he does not know his address for them to locate his mother. They send him to an orphanage where he and other potential adoptees giggle as they are taught table manners and the English words for the tableware in preparation for their adoption.
The Brierleys choose Saroo and take him to their home in Tasmania where he is showered with loving care. Soon after they adopt another Indian boy named Mantosh, but he turns out to be deeply disturbed, and so the once tranquil home is filled with turmoil. Nonetheless, the loving couple refuse to give up the disturbed boy.
The second half of the film begins some 20-25 years later. Saroo is in Melbourne studying hotel management. He begins a romance with fellow student Lucy (Rooney Mara), and through her he meets several Indian students. They are intrigued by his background and encourage him to begin searching for his roots using Google Earth. He especially is motivated to do so when at one of their parties a plate of jalebis triggers a memory. Jalebis are a delicious sweet desert that he had once asked Guddu to buy. Lacking money, his brother told him that one day he would do so.
From his laptop’s Google Earth Saroo searches for something familiar along the numerous railroad lines extending for a thousand miles beyond Calcutta. He turns the wall of his room into a giant chart of all the rail-lines leading in an out of the city. He has in his mind an image of a water tower that he had seen across from the station where he had last been with his brother. No spoiler in revealing that he eventually is successful, returning at last to his native village to find…
This film is even more remarkable in that it is a true story, adapted by Luke Davies’ from Brierleys’ memoir A Long Way Home. The great cast and marvelous, scenic photography make this a pleasure to watch. This is a very emotional film, but unlike Collateral Beauty, you do not feel manipulated by this cinematic treasure. We even see the real characters during the closing credits, at which time I hope you have a handkerchief close by. We also learn the significance of the title at the end—I will only say that no lions were harmed in the making of this film.
Good teaching scene: Saroo expresses his gratitude to Sue and John Brierley for their taking him in, and she replies that they are the ones who have been blessed. When Saroo implies that she was not able to birth a child, she tells him that she was able, but that the world was so over populated that they had decided not to add to its number, but to become parents for those who needed them.
This review with a set of questions is in the Jan. 2017 issue of VP.