Where are you from? Seemingly a simple question. If I was to ask you where you came from, would the answer be straightforward? ‘I was born in London so I’m British.’ ‘I was born in India so I'm Indian.’ As we migrate and integrate across the expanding world, how we define ourselves changes and Garth Davis’ Lion is an example of how self-identity is more than where you are born.
The film, remarkably based on a true story, starts with actor Sunny Pawar as young Saroo; a boy living in a remote and seemingly impoverished part of India, Ganesh Talai. Saroo is a cute and lovable child who seems to view the world with his charming smile. Saroo and his older brother Guddu showcase their childish mischief and laughter whilst blinding the viewer to the harsh reality of the world that surrounds them. As privileged members of society, we don't often see the brutal truths that shape our society and Garth Davis’ use of the heartwarming bond between the brothers masks the whole situation. The use of family bonds is Garth Davis’ way of creating a barrier for Saroo across the film. Even in his home in India, which compromises of a shack with barely enough light to see, we see bonds between the family shine through the dark clouds of reality. The film's award-winning cinematographer Greig Fraser uses light and dark spaces to highlight the mental turmoil that the main characters face. He uses light in conjunction with scenes relating to love to show how love can punch through the darkest of moments.
Credit: The Weinstein Company
The recurring motif of the impenetrable bond changes as Saroo adapts to his surroundings. He tries to form meaningful bonds throughout his journey but all lack the love required to see it to fruition. This familial connection shapes the defining moment where Saroo’s innocence shifts into anger and frustration. As the viewer, we desperately want nothing to happen to him, but once that barrier of love and trust breaks, we see Saroo face the actual reality that he stumbles into.
The pivotal moment in the film comes when Saroo wakes up in a moving train speeding away from his home town. Unable to change his fate, he expresses his helplessness in complex emotions that fill the runaway train cart. Alone and powerless on a journey across India, he becomes an observer in his own world. As he journeys through vast plains of sand and greenery, the train journey becomes the catalyst that rewrites his future. The train acts as a vessel that carries old Saroo into the new.
Home and identity have always been interlinked, and in his new reality, Saroo struggles to find a home. He becomes unable to be himself and create that same barrier of love. After finally submitting to the gears of fate, Saroo’s life changes as he travels across the world and plunges head-first into his new life in Tasmania. Many years later he resurfaces anew, now played by Dev Patel. Within the arms of his new mother he finds his new calm: Sue Brierly, played by Nicole Kidman, helps a lost Saroo find himself in these new surroundings.
Dev Patel’s performance brings complexity to the role that showcases how past trauma and memories have played a vital part in forming this new Saroo. Patel's seamless transition into an Australian accent is one of many traits that is worth commendation. Patel beautifully flows through the range of emotions as he shows the audience the fractured personality that is Saroo. Amongst his new friends, Saroo looks comfortable but his inner dialogue remains perplexed with defining who he really is. This inner dialogue exists in the lives of many migrants who struggle to define their identity. As a British Pakistani growing up in two very different cultures, the increasing pressure to choose a side has always stumped me. This film has become a window into what can happen if you let your inner battles define you. For months we see Saroo struggle to make peace with the loss of his former family in India. Without his roots and origins, he has trouble settling into what his life has become.
As his inner circle expands Saroo perceives his comfortable life as a burden. The distant yet constant visions of his brother symbolise his decaying perception of his life that places his privilege in the line of fire. Being unable to come to terms with his life, the growing silence towards his family members causes Saroo to live a reclusive life. The clear contradiction between his past and present lives fuels months of spiralling into an identity crisis. As he explores what makes his life unique, Saroo begins to question what truly defines home and identity. Although he has family and love in Tasmania, he finds himself half-empty.
Family and self-identity dominate the narrative: once back in India, Saroo finally makes peace with who he truly is and where he comes from. Whilst coming to terms with his sense of self, the importance of balancing his relationships with all members of his family plays a key role in forming strong bonds that transcend borders. With these two halves, he finally becomes whole.
Many around Britain who come from diverse backgrounds struggle to answer the question of ‘Where are you from?’. For many, home is where family is but also where memories are. Home becomes an abstract concept that expands to encompass everything defining that person. Lion is one of my favourite films because it makes me question who I truly am. Growing up between two countries and never truly finding a permanent home meant I was always searching for something concrete. I was always searching for the answer to the question ‘where are you from?’. I had memories that tied me down to both places and I created bonds that existed across borders. I relate to the character of Saroo and find lessons within the stories of his life. Lion serves as a reminder of what can happen if you don’t find balance. It serves as a reminder that home is only as strong as your bonds.
Edited by Lydia Leung (Film & TV Head Editor) & Barney Nuttall (Film & TV Deputy Editor)