Thoughts on the Movie “Lion”

Spoiler Alert!   Spoiler Alert!   Spoiler Alert!  

I’m finally on vacation and have already experienced my first full day in Korea yesterday. It’s pretty great to be back in the country after leaving ten years ago following a five year period of living here.

It’s also great to have so much free time, something I did not have back home prior to this trip. Even the 14 1/2 hour flight from DC to Seoul was relaxing! And it wasn’t just the fact that economy class on Korean Air includes a bottle of water, a pair of slippers, a sleeping mask, blanket, and toothbrush and toothpaste kit all waiting for you at your seat upon your entry onto the plane. Nor is it the kind post-it note Korean Air puts on your seat while you are sleeping during times they are serving food, letting you know that once you awake, you should ring them so they can bring you the warm meal you missed during your nap. It has been so much more than those small but meaningful touches that have made this such a relaxing vacation so early on my journey.

But for all the promises I made myself about how I was going to spend the long flight to Seoul reading and writing, I am guilty of doing neither. Instead, I binged watched recent movies on the airline’s in-flight movie service. And one of the movies I saw was “Lion,” based on a true story and starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. The movie is about an adoptee from India who was adopted by a loving Australian couple and his journey as an adult to find his birth family in India.

It’s an absolutely amazing movie and while I haven’t read the book the film was based off of, I can’t say enough about this production: wonderful cinematography, exceptional acting, and just an overall moving and incredible story. But as an international adoptee myself, the movie affected me in ways it possibly could not have affected non-adoptees who have seen this, and I while I fully expected to bawl my eyes out while watching the movie based off what others had told me beforehand, I never expected I would actually be able to relate to the storyline as much as I did.

For me, there were three big take-aways from the movie that will stay with me for a while:

  1. An adoptee’s search for personal history, or his/her attempt to understand and accept what is missing from his/her early days of life, is a private struggle and journey that must be taken on his/her own. In the movie, this was accurately depicted by Saroo’s distance from his girlfriend and adoptive parents as he researched the location of his childhood home, a village he still had memories of, but a village whose name he did not accurately know. No matter how close loved ones are to an adoptee ready to search for answers, when it comes to an adoptee reconciling his/her past, it ultimately must be done alone. Of course many accept external support along the way, but in the end, it is an emotional and spiritual journey that no one else can experience. It may be hard for outsiders to understand, but ultimately, it is such a personal and intimate affair, the best others can do is offer their support, but accept that distance may be needed, at least temporarily.
  2. Adoptive parents are truly loving and special people. Yes, I know negligent and abusive adoptive parents exist, but I believe the majority of them are truly loving, special people. In “Lion,” this was the case for Saroo and his brother—they honestly did have adoptive parents who both considered their adopted sons “their own” children, but who also realized they had another set of parents continents away who may have also loved them, and for whatever reason, could not care for them. I loved how the movie depicted Saroo’s adopted parents as being understanding and supportive of his search for his biological family in India, especially his mother and older brother who he had very clear memories of. And I loved how his parents did not feel threatened by the need for their son to find his birth mother and how they gave him both the space and privacy he needed to search for her and the respect and understanding they showed in acknowledging that this was a personal journey he needed to take. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it, but it was such a beautiful depiction of the love adoptive parents have for their children and what special people they really are.
  3. Things happen for a reason, and for the lucky, it all works out in the end. People may see the events that led to Saroo’s adoption as a series of tragedies that should never have happened. He should have never followed his older brother to the city to do night work. He should have never left the bench where his older brother left him to sleep until he could return from work and bring Saroo back home to their village. He should have never ventured onto that empty train that took him to far away Calcutta where he became permanently separated from his family in Khandwa. But as we learn at the end of the movie when Saroo is reunited with his birth mother and he learns about the missing pieces of his childhood and what happened to his mother and brother after his separation from them, I can come to no other conclusion except that Saroo’s journey to Australia was likely meant to be. We learn that his older brother Guddu would have never come back for him at the train station bench after his night shift had Saroo stayed put as instructed, for that same night he and his brother ventured out into the city, Guddu was killed by a train shortly after leaving Saroo to sleep at the station. If this is not a divine sign of what was meant to be for this boy, I don’t know what is, but I am convinced God had a plan for Saroo that night and that he was meant to be adopted by his parents in Australia and live the wonderful life he has had.

When you think about it, “Lion” is truly an incredible story: everything from the events that led to Saroo’s adoption to how he was able to find his birth mother off just his memory—simply amazing. Even for those who have not been personally affected by international adoption, “Lion” is a movie all can appreciate. But for those whose lives have been touched by adoption, the meaning behind this movie is much more impactful.

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