It’s rare that I am surprised by a movie. I may say I’m surprised all the time, but that’s hyperbole. I like to tell fish stories. Let’s just say I did surprisingly well in the 400 class in Creative Lying. Life is too bland and boring as it is. We need to spice things up some. But Lion? Surprised me. Gobsmacked me. Blew my mind. In my Oscar’s recap, I think I may have under represented Lion. Yup. Cause, it was good.
Dev? I wasn’t aware he actually new how to act. Love him. Adore his funny antics. Just giggle thinking about him. But assumed he couldn’t act. This movie though demanded he bring a very intense, very real, Acting A-game, or he would have sucked in this role. And bring it he did. But the light of this movie? The real show stopper? Sunny Pawar. Holy cow. Young Saroo in this movie was just unbelievable. I didn’t even know children could such a good job as Sunny did. Had no idea they had this kind of emotional intensity capable.
If you haven’t seen the film, it’s based on the book entitled “A Long Walk Home”, which I have just read and it blew my mind as well. The movie is about a boy that lives in north central India. Poorest of the poor. Constantly hungry. Always looking for his next meal (which, in his book says that it was this constant hunger that robbed him of his childhood.) and constantly hungry. One night, disaster strikes and Saroo and his older brother get separated. Saroo falls a sleep on a decommissioned train, and wakes up on the way to Calcutta 1600 clicks away. Trailer. Watch trailer.
Started watching the trailer after I inserted it and just had to stop. Not that I don’t totally dig it – but man, it’s intense. Actually would love to sit down and watch the movie all over again from the beginning. But seriously? What a story. And to think? The book is even more intense than the movie was. Saroo’s writing is just totally like as if you and your best friend are hanging out at a pub and he just starts with, “Funny thing… when I was young I accidentally got lost in India…”
First A Story Because I Said So
I’m going to get to Lion, but first… I’m going to tell a story. (Note to readers out there, THIS! is why you go out to Godaddy and setup your own blog… it means you get to do whatever you want and don’t even have to listen to the chorus of people yelling, WHAT?!? He did WHAT?)
So a couple of months ago, I got a chance to visit a family in Quezon City, Manila. This family was special in that to meet them, I flew half way around the world into one of the poorest countries in the world… the Philippines. And then I drove through the poor inner city of Manila, to the much poorer outskirts. And then I drove into Quezon which is way poorer than Manila at large. And then I was met by a few locals and accompanied in to the poorer outer edge section of Quezon. And we walked in among the shanties that were hastily put up besides one of the “rivers” of Quezon that no one else wanted to live next to because they were always flooding during hurricanes.
When we finally arrived at the area where this family lived… here. I’ll show you a photo. Do you see the corrugated tin, and boxes and boards on the left above the river? That is three layers. Three families high. A lower one that is 5 feet high. A middle one that is 3 feet high. And another one on top that is maybe 4 feet? I don’t know… I literally would have fallen through if I had gone up. (I have broken more than one tenement in my life. I should tell you about the time a caused a cave in by tripping on a “stair” in a “house” in Peru. Yeah, I felt awful.) And that “river”? It wreaked.
Right, so I’m meeting with this family, and we are talking about their lives… and their family, and how the organization I am with can assist her and her children. And as we are chatting, the mother mentions to me that her husband disappeared seven years before. He had borrowed the car of a friend to haul something and then he was attacked. When she found the car it was riddled with bullets. But the most important thing was that her husband was nowhere to be found. If that were me, I’d assume he was dead. But no. That isn’t how it works in the Philippines, or the third world at large. He very well could be a hostage. He very well could be alive. And so she has stayed in this same horrible neighborhood these past 7 years just in case he comes back and comes looking for her and their family. In their mind? He’s totally not dead. In their mind? He’s coming home. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and are you kidding? They can’t leave!
Think about it. In America, Australia, England, Canada, Germany… other developed nations? If your spouse goes missing? You don’t stay in your house just in case they come back. Your spouse would have a million ways to trace you down, right? Post Office records. White pages. Facebook for heavens sake. They would find you. And it’d take maybe fifteen minutes. Our problem is the inverse! I want my ex to not know where I am going, how do I keep them from finding out?!? But in poverty stricken areas? You move? It’s over. Game over. They’ll never find you again. Just think about that for a moment. The idea of postal addresses? How would you assign postal addresses to that pile of driftwood and metal? If you want to think through this problem in a little more detail, 99% Invisible did a fantastic podcast about modern address problems around the world that you can listen to right here. So yeah, this problem that Lion is discussing? It’s still a real problem today. And by today, I literally mean TODAY.
Which is why I sobbed like a little school girl throughout most of this movie. Not particularly a fan of crying per se. But it definitely was a close to home story in my mind.
Overview of the Movie Lion and the book
Saroo, at the age of 4, or 5? (No one knows for sure just how old Saroo is.) Went with his brother Guddu, several train stops up the line in order to find night work. And while there, little Saroo was very tired. And so he fell asleep on the bench in the train station after being admonished by his brother to not leave. That he’d be right back. Only problem? Little Saroo woke with a start and wandered around looking for his brother who hadn’t come back. Guddu had been killed that same night, but we don’t know if that is why he was prevented from coming back for Saroo or if he died looking for Saroo. Either way, when Saroo wandered about looking for him, he eventually wandered onto a train and fell asleep. When attempting explain why a train, Saroo can’t explain it. He thought maybe it was a safer place to hole up and wait for Guddu to arrive? Regardless, that was a fateful decision as the train was headed to Calcutta and wasn’t in commission for local traffic.
When Saroo woke he realized to his horror what had happened. And just like that his life was changed forever.
In the movie, Saroo begged others to help him get back home. But as he didn’t know where he was from and because of the paralysis of poverty, no one helped Saroo figure out how to get him back home. And just like that, Saroo was marooned in Calcutta by himself. The book makes it clear that for quite a while little Saroo rode random trains out to the end of the line and then back to station again. Out, back. Out, back. Constantly hoping that eventually he’d get back on the same line that took him from his village. But that obviously never happened.
Saroo spent about 6 weeks on his own before he was brought to the police station. But before that time he had a number of near fatal encounters. The movie encounter with the men nabbing street children? Real. The person that primped him for someone else to take him for some nefarious purpose? Real. Although it wasn’t a ‘nice’ woman, it was a man in the rail yards of the train station.
The book makes it clear that Saroo’s worst encounter though was in the place that the police took him to which was actually a juvenile detention center. Any young offender that was too young for jail went there. All the mentally handicapped children they weren’t sure what to do with? Yeah. And it was there that Saroo emoted the most surprise and fear of his time in Calcutta. Which, is saying something because there were days when little Saroo stumbled upon dead and dismembered human remains and other terrible experiences. Soon though an orphanage came and got him and put him up for adoption after searching for his parents for 30 days. And then at the 6 month mark after being separated from his mother, Saroo flew from Calcutta to Australia to meet his new adoptive parents.
Adoption and Disruption
I don’t talk about it much, mainly because it’s one big cluster, but my family and I have been attempting to adopt from Haiti for several years now. Four? Five? I’ve lost track. It’s been a long haul. My wife and I have re-upped our fingerprints too many times. Redone our home studies. Psych evals? Yeah, done that too many times too. It’s crazy. And yet, this movie, single handedly has renewed my passion for adopting those two kids from that creche in the worst of the worst locations in the world. Some would say that this adoptive family actually dismantled his life. I would disagree and say that this new family save him from the very real possibility of a very early death. When his family took him to a doctor in Australia, he had a tape worm in his belly, a heart murmur, and chipped teeth. Saroo was only five and yet the chaos of poverty had already taken it’s toll on his little body.
On Google Earth and Saroo’s Long Journey Back
I keyed in Saroo’s hometown and Calcutta (Kolkata) in Google maps, and that is just a daunting blue line. Any other era prior to this one? Saroo is done. The story is told. He would have an India shaped hole in his heart. But the story would be done right there. But that isn’t how the story ended as you already know. Here is what Saroo had to say about the role that Google Earth played in his journey home:
“I was lookin’ at Google Maps, realized there’s Google Earth as well, a world where you can zoom into,” says Saroo. “I started to have all these thoughts and what possibilities that this could do for me. I said to myself, ‘Well, you know, you’ve got all that photographic memories and landmarks where you’re from and you know what the town looks like. This could be an application that you can use to find your way back.'” Saroo spent years studying the labyrinth of railway lines on Google Earth, knowing that at some point they intersected the town where he was born. Relying on a near-quarter-century-old mental picture, Saroo searched in a radius that expanded outward from the Calcutta train station, where he had ended up as a child. Eventually, he started following a set of train tracks that led to a train station that “reflected the same image” that was in his memories. “Everything matched,” he said of the topography, including a bridge next to a large industrial tank by the station. He traveled to India and was able to locate his hometown of Khandwa.”
Just unbelievably unreal. Can’t imagine it. And yet somehow, some way… it happened. I remember as the movie was playing out and in my head I had done my own mental math about how far he probably had gone… and then how he set his upper limit of his search window at 1200 kilometers? I all but yelled at the screen… NO WAY! 2,000! Hahah.
Lion and the Take Away
Lion’s take away is to move you and to tell you a gripping story about the young man named Saroo that overcame impossible odds that brought him back to his mother and family after many years. My take away for you is that you are privileged. Very very privileged. And do you know how I know? Because you are reading this. You are privileged because you have running water in your home. You are probably in the top 3% of families in the world. Worst case? Worst case? Maybe you are in the top 10%. On the outside.
So my question to you? How are you helping someone in need that isn’t as lucky as you? How are you giving a hand to someone like Saroo?