There are three main reasons to watch Lion. First: InStyle's December Man of Style Dev Patel, all grown up and sexy with big soulful eyes and dark, thick curls (he also gives a superb performance). Second: The adorable newcomer Sunny Pawar, who plays Patel as a young boy. And third: The heart-wrenching true story that the film depicts. Lion is a love story, but not in the romantic sense. Yes, there is a romance (more on that later), but the real love here is the longing for one’s identity, one’s roots, one’s family. But it’s also about the love of an adoptive mother (played ever so realistically by the flawless Nicole Kidman) and how she learns that to truly love her son is to let him go.
Lion follows the story of 5-year-old Indian boy named Saroo (Pawar), who in 1986 gets separated from his family. But not lost at a mall or a crowded beach. We are talking about a small child who finds himself accidentally hundreds and hundreds of miles from his home, a small village in rural Khandwa, India.
When Saroo wakes up after falling asleep at a train station while waiting for his big brother, he gets on a train to search for his sibling, but the train starts moving and he is stuck in an abandoned passenger car. No one can hear his yells as the train rolls down the tracks past endless fields and unfamiliar towns taking him further and further away from his beloved mother and his home. When it stops at its final destination–Calcutta—young Saroo has no idea where he is, nor how to tell anyone who he is or where he is from; he speaks Hindi, but everyone around him speaks Bengali. After living on the streets, scavenging for food and a few close calls with some shady characters, he is finally taken to an orphanage and eventually adopted by a loving Australian couple (played by Kidman and David Wenham).
Cut to 20-something years later, when Saroo, a student in Melbourne, feels like something is missing in his life, despite the affections of his lovely girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and supportive family. Haunted by his past, he starts experiencing flashbacks, spurring him to discover his true identity and find his long lost family. Enter Google Earth, which becomes almost another character in the film. With scant information and faded snippets of memory—a water tower, a rock quarry, knowing the train stopped in Calcutta—Saroo obsessively traces his way across India on the internet, pushing his family and girlfriend away until finally zooming in to pinpoint his village.
There is a tear-inducing, emotional payoff, but the real takeaway here is in the questions the film asks about the forces that pull and shape us, the power of love and bonds across time and space, and to what extent our roots and our upbringing define us and what it means to find oneself. You can ask yourself all these questions and more when Lion hits theaters on Nov. 25.
Watch the trailer above.