By: Ali Elizabeth Turner.
About a week ago, my family and I had a chance to see “The Lion,” a remarkable true story about a young Indian boy who was separated from his family, adopted by loving Australian parents, grows up on Tasmania, and then 25 years later miraculously finds his family of origin. His name is Saroo Brierley, and he was 5 when he became lost in the subcontinent of India in the middle of nearly a billion people. He did not know his mother’s first or last name, (other than “Ammi,” a Hindi term of endearment), he mispronounced the name of his town to the point that no one recognized it, and Saroo was utterly vulnerable. He spent two days on the train and ended up in Calcutta, lived on the streets, was nearly sold into sexual slavery, but managed to escape. Before you say, “Look, there’s enough ugly stuff in the world, I think I’ll pass,” I am going to be the spoiler and let you know that it has a real-life happy ending, and Saroo has two families today who love him desperately. It’s also not a chick flick. My husband’s protective “guy heart” was so stirred he could hardly finish the film. I saw that same heart every day when we lived at an orphanage in Mexico, and it is not that of a wimp.
The journey from lost little boy to greatly loved adoptee to a wild searcher/seeker, to a finder and lover of two utterly disparate families is compelling, and worth the ride. Any parent will want to hug their kids and hold them tight, no matter how old they are. It is a gorgeous film, and for the life of me, I have no idea how they got Sunny Pawar, who plays young Saroo to portray a lost little kid in such a convincing manner. His performance was heartbreakingly real, as was that of Dev Patel, who played the adult Saroo. Dev was introduced to the west as the lead actor in Slumdog Millionaire.
So, what are the lessons? What first comes to mind is the powerful role of fathers, in this case, fathers who choose to adopt. Adoptive moms get a lot of press, adoptive dads not so much, and this dad is a true hero. David Wenham, who plays the part of John Brierley, Saroo’s Australian dad, absolutely nails his performance. His understated but obviously deep love for both of the boys that they got from India is like a quiet, nourishing river. What made the Brierley’s situation even more challenging was that Mantosh, who was adopted after Saroo, had even deeper issues, including self-battering which I believe is still a problem, as well as substance abuse. John Brierley was most definitely “there” for his kids, and while he couldn’t heal their torment, I have no doubt that his love and influence was and is their rock.
Secondly, the “lioness” heart of a mom, that of birth moms and adoptive ones is not to be trifled with, and never gives up. Saroo’s Indian mom, who was single, illiterate, and supported her kids by carrying rocks, looked for him literally for years with no resources for the search. Sue Brierley, who is played by Nicole Kidman, is one remarkable mom, fighting for her sons, wanting them close while letting them go. It’s every mom’s journey, adoptive or not. The film shows the moment in real life when the two moms met for the first time, and I am having a hard time seeing my computer screen as I type, just thinking about it.
The quest for finding one’s family against all odds is as epic as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. While it consumes the adult Saroo nearly to the point of a complete nervous breakdown, the prize of perseverance and the resolution of his “root” questions inspire one to “dig deep” when it comes to tackling the impossible in other arenas.
Most importantly, The Lion is about the power of love. Love that would cause adults to take on two utterly traumatized kids and raise them well, irrespective of the cost. Love that is insistent upon the truth, no matter how shattering it might be. Love that transcends culture, illiteracy, poverty, comfort and trauma,that is what The Lion is. Rent it and happily bring Kleenex. You are going to need it.