When I wrote about the marketing of Lion last year I thought it made a decent emotional appeal to audiences who were looking to have themselves a good cry at the theater. I wasn’t wrong.
The story follows Saroo, a young boy in India who becomes separated from his older brother on a train platform. Boarding a decommissioned train he winds up thousands of kilometers away from home, with no way to get back or even to tell adults and authorities how they can help him out. He’s eventually adopted by an Australian couple played by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman. 25-odd years later Saroo is grown (now played by Dev Patel) and struggling with his identity. He keeps getting flashes of memory showing his brother and mother but has no idea how to find them. Eventually, he begins an online search and ultimately finds at least some of the answers he’s been searching for.
The campaign seemed to be split into a few parts: The posters played up the Google Search aspect of the story, the trailers emphasized the emotional story of the search for family and identity and the website was focused on creating awareness for charities related to the movie’s story.
Of those, the trailers are probably the most spot-on in terms of tone and subject matter in the movie. There are plenty of mentions of Google Earth and scenes of it helping Saroo’s search for the village he grew up in, but it’s never really a focus of the story. It’s not as if everyone is tied to it. In fact, it becomes a point of contention in the relationship between Saroo and his girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara.
No, the story is much more about the emotional journey Saroo is going through as he becomes more and more determined to find his real family. He becomes understandably obsessed with it while at the same time feeling if he lets anyone in on what he’s doing. It tears him up not only because the answers allude him for so long but because he feels the need to keep it all heaped on his own shoulders, only grudgingly sharing his issues with his girlfriend or adoptive parents.
Patel is wonderful, of course, as Saroo. Ultimately it’s kind of a one-note role as he’s asked to repeatedly convey the angst of his situation in various ways. That’s mainly done through him growing increasingly long and scraggly hair for a chunk of the story as he’s descending deeper and deeper into isolation and depression.
Still, it’s a good movie that will bring you to tears by the end as Saroo reaches the end of your journey. That’s more or less just what the trailers in particular promised and so it’s good to see it delivers on that front.