Four-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) lives in a small village in rural India with his single mother (Priyanka Bose) and three siblings. He is especially fond of his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) who takes him along with him as he scavenges for things he can sell or trade for food.
One night, Guddu leaves the sleepy boy in a train station, telling him to stay put until he comes back from working. But when Saroo wakes up, he panics in the empty station. He climbs into a decommissioned train looking for his brother and falls asleep again. When he wakes up, he can't get off the train and ends up 1600 kilometers from home in Calcutta.
With startling succinctness, director Garth Davis fills in the fear and stress that overtakes this stout-hearted boy as he experiences homelessness — sleeping on cardboard sheets on the streets of the city and being chased by child-snatchers. He is taken home by a beautiful woman who feeds him and then prepares to turn him over to a man using little boys for prostitution. Saduu runs away from them.
Unable to read or give the police his address or mother's name, Saroo is sent to a crowded orphanage and then adopted by a couple living in Tasmania. His new mother, Sue (Nicole Kidman), is totally devoted to him and with her husband, John (David Wenham), creates a stable home. Things heat up when they also adopt Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav), a young Indian boy who is both unhappy and mentally unstable.
The film skips forward 20 years and Saroo (Dev Patel) is in Melbourne where he intends to study hotel management. He begins an intimate relationship with a fellow student, Lucy (Rooney Mara), a serious and smart young woman. At a party, Saroo sees some food which he had yearned for as a child, a memory he shares with his friends, along with his painful story about being lost in India.
With their encouragement, he decides to begin a quest to locate his mother and brother. He uses the Google Earth application to follow train routes out of Calcutta, looking for a few landmarks he remembers from 25 years earlier — a water tower by a station platform and rolling hills near where his mother worked carrying stones.
Lion is one of the Most Spiritually Literate Films of 2016 because it provides a workshop for empathy or seeing the world through the eyes of others. From the opening scenes of Saroo's poverty-stricken village life to the closing scenes of family solidarity, this true story helps us see how having empathy for others can transform our lives.
Long ago, the writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau posed a question that is at the hub of Lion:
"Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"
- A miracle takes place when we recognize the deep love between Saroo and his brother and their delight in pleasing their mother.
- A miracle takes place when we find ourselves feeling Saroo's fears as he realizes that his calls for Guddu will not be answered and he is lost in an alien city.
- A miracle takes place when we identify with Sadoo's intuitive vibe that sends him fleeing from the strangers who plan to use him in the sex trade.
- A miracle takes place when we see how proud Sue and John Brierley are of Saroo, and we know why they would feel this way.
- A miracle takes place when we can see ourselves as Saroo's friends, trying to understand the depths of his pain over his lost family, determined to help him.
- A miracle takes place when we embrace Saroo's persistence in looking for routes to his home on Google Earth, a technological tool many of us have used ourselves.
- A miracle takes place when Sue shares a vision and we can appreciate her decision to adopt children from India.
- A miracle takes place as we walk with Saroo through a village in India and we, like him, desperately want to find what he is looking for.
- A miracle takes place as we join with the villagers in celebrating Saroo's long-delayed reunion with his mother.
- A miracle takes place when during the closing credits we see pictures of the real-life Brierleys and Saroo's mother in India, and we identify with these people whose lives have touched our own.