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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lion is an emotional biographical drama about Saroo Brierley, who was lost to his family in India at age 5 after ending up on a train bound more than 1,000 kilometers away from his hometown. Based on Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home, the movie chronicles how Saroo (Dev Patel) used Google Earth to track down his birth family after a 25-year separation. Children are shown in danger -- including a disturbing scene in which homeless children are abducted as they sleep, one in which young Saroo is physically inspected in a creepy manner, and others in which he's forced to live on the streets with no shelter or food. When the action switches to Saroo's adulthood, there are scenes of implied sex (he and his girlfriend are in bed, half dressed) and passionate kissing. Adults (twentysomethings) drink at dinner parties, restaurants, and at home; there's also cigarette smoking and infrequent strong language ("s--t," "ass," etc.). And underlying everything are powerful lessons about perseverance, gratitude, family bonds, and the power of technology.
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What's the story?
LION is an incredible story based on Saroo Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home. Born in India to a poor but loving family, Saroo was lost to them at age 5 when he ended up on a train that took him more than 1,000 kilometers away from his modest hometown to the bustling streets of Calcutta. Young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) has no idea how to return to his mother and siblings, so he wanders around, homeless, skirting one tragic close call after another until he's placed into an orphanage and adopted by a loving Australian couple: John (David Wenham) and Sue (Nicole Kidman) Brierley. More than 20 years later, Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) shares his improbable story with new friends who encourage him to use Google Earth to track down all the possible towns he might have come from. From that point on, Saroo isolates himself from his family and girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara), to focus solely on the slim possibility of finding his biological mother and siblings.
Is it any good?
Be prepared to cry -- a lot -- at this wonderfully cast tearjerker about a man who searched for his birth family across a continent, with only decades-old memories to guide him. Director Garth Davis' adaptation of Brierley's memoir starts off strong, with the charming, big-eyed Pawar playing adorable young Saroo. Audiences will audibly gasp at the circumstances that lead to his separation from his family, and there will be (many) tears as he narrowly escapes the grips of people who would surely do him harm. Once Saroo is an adult, Patel takes over as a well-adjusted adoptive son who's flourished in his new family and country but then becomes obsessed with finding out where he's from and what happened to the family who must have assumed he was gone forever.
Although the beginning and the end of Lion are emotional and compelling, there's a period in the middle of the second act when all Saroo seems to do is hang out in front of his computer, searching countless train stations within a 1,000-mile radius of Calcutta. He also pushes away the people who love him -- most frustratingly, his devoted girlfriend (played beautifully by Mara). This is definitely the movie's low point, and it lasts a bit too long, but eventually everything picks up again. Wenham has little to do, but Kidman gives a fantastic supporting performance as the mother of two adopted Indian sons, one of whom (Saroo's brother) has special needs. Without completely spoiling the ending, let's just say you can expect the tears to flow freely as you witness Saroo's complicated joy, relief, and sadness at the end of his long journey.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes Lion such an emotional story? Do you enjoy tearjerkers? Why do you think we sometimes seek out movies that will make us cry?
What is the movie's message about adoption? Does it offer a positive representation of an adoptive family?
Does the inclusion of Google Earth feel artificial or vital to the story? Why is it different than a random product placement?
- In theaters: November 25, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: April 11, 2017
- Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman
- Director: Garth Davis
- Studio: The Weinstein Company
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Character strengths: Compassion, Gratitude, Perseverance
- Run time: 129 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material and some sensuality
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: May 12, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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