Lion (2016), by Luke Davies, is based on the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley.
Here’s the general plot: A 5-year-old poverty-stricken boy in India gets lost in Calcutta, almost 1,000 miles from his home. Adopted by an Australian family, 25 years later he seeks to reconnect with his birth family in India. That’s all you need to know.
Many years ago, I read an article where the screenwriter explained that this was a complicated script. It essentially boiled down to one moment: Saroo (the protagonist) finding his home village on Google Maps.
That’s amazing, but it isn’t exactly epic. Therefore, much of the script was essentially the build-up to that point. To do that, Saroo essentially had to reach his darkest point / breaking point, give up and then by chance find what he was looking for all along. And that was accomplished primarily by focusing on the rocky relationships he had with his girlfriend and brother. That was most of Act 2, and what I felt was the weakest part of the story. Because after all, that part of the story is not unique or very interesting.
On the flip side, Act 3 was the best part of the script. Although, the question has to be asked: Was the climax finding his hometown on Google Maps or traveling to India and meeting his birth mother? Well, to me, it felt like both those points were separate climaxes, which worked fine.
Saroo and his Australian mother were well-developed, unique and interesting characters. His brother likewise added an intense emotional element to the script.
His Australian dad (mom’s sidekick), birth mom (mostly ignored) and girlfriend (role unclear) were less developed.
Who or what was the antagonist? Who was against Saroo? Did his devotion/obsession in finding his hometown make him his own worst enemy? No one was really ever against Saroo. Even in his darkest moments, he seemed to have the support of everyone around him. Of course, there was some surface tension.
Dialogue & Pacing
The script was written with short action lines and frequently used flashbacks and dreams to connect Saroo’s early childhood in India to present-day in Australia. There was some writing that showed moments of brilliance, while parts felt weak.
Here’s a great line of descriptive action text (I know using the word then is controversial, but come on):
A private communion. The son comforting the mother. Then, as if remembering her duty to look after him, Sue pulls Saroo close, cradles his head. They stand there, a silent tableau.
Here’s a great quote from Saroo’s mom:
We both felt the world had more than enough people in it already. Because to have a child – that’s no guarantee that’s going to make things better. But to take a child who’s suffering – like you boys were – and to give him a chance in the world. Well, then. Now there’s something.
The script was loaded with intense emotion moments both in dialogue and action. It’s truly an amazing story. Salmon Rushdie agrees.
Points of Interest
The 1st and 3rd acts are worth reading, with a specific emphasis on Act 3 (start on Page ~87) for great examples of conveying emotion in descriptive writing.