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The Bock’s Office: ‘Lion’ roars triumphantly as true tale of overcoming impossible odds

Saroo (Sunny Pawar) bonds with his adoptive mother, Sue (Nicole Kidman), in "Lion." The movie is about an Indian boy who gets separated from his older brother and eventually gets adopted, later searching for details of his past as an adult.

Saroo (Sunny Pawar) bonds with his adoptive mother, Sue (Nicole Kidman), in "Lion." The movie is about an Indian boy who gets separated from his older brother and eventually gets adopted, later searching for details of his past as an adult.

Many of us have parts of our childhood we’d like to forget, but for just as many, drawing a complete blank can be just as upsetting. For those who need motivation to piece together both the painful and pleasant parts of their life, that’s why a movie like “Lion” exists.

If you go...

“Lion,” rated PG-13

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Running time: 118 minutes

Starring: Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

In 1980s India, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) has a poor but happy life with his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), making a living by occasionally stealing or finding other ways to scrape together money for their poverty-stricken family.

When the siblings find themselves at a train platform late one night, Guddu leaves his younger brother momentarily, only for Saroo to wander onto a train, fall asleep and be transported across the country.

Stranded in Calcutta and unable to communicate with anyone in the regional dialect, the young boy is presumed to have no parents and placed in an orphanage, where he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham).

After 20 years, an adult Saroo (Dev Patel) has no recollection of his early childhood. When memories of his time in India start to surface, he begins to seek out the details of what became of his biological family, though his increasingly obsessive search distances him from his supportive girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and adoptive parents.

There are many similarities to Patel’s character here and the hope-filled teen he played in “Slumdog Millionaire,” but besides being based on a real person, Saroo is more grounded as someone who’s been fortunate enough to come through a rough start in life and find himself firmly in a comfortable middle class existence.

His sudden urge to answer where he comes from is one that comes from a strange source — an Indian dish at a party that unearths a long-forgotten memory — but nonetheless puts him on an important path.

As a complete novice actor, Pawar is a delight as his younger self, encountering both friendly and untrustworthy folks in a region wholly different than his roots, only to get another dose of culture shock when he is transplanted to Tasmania.

Wenham does well as his new dad, John Brierley, but Kidman exudes warmth and love to spare as Sue, Saroo’s adoptive mother, whose devotion to her son only grows as he reaches adulthood.

While Saroo takes little time to assimilate to his new country and new family, we see that not all kids in his situation can process changes so well as John and Sue adopt another Indian boy, Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), whose myriad childhood issues manifest in nasty ways as he grows older.

It’s hard not to focus on the negative side of international adoption, yet the screenplay by Luke Davies — based on Saroo Brierley’s memoir “A Long Way Home” — leans more toward the light than darkness, showing parents who have unconditional love for their sons, despite failing them somewhat by not connecting them to their heritage.

The magic of Google Earth and other sources provide help to Saroo, who quickly learns that even in the internet age, searching for a needle in a haystack is just as tough when you have limited recall of your past.

The guilt of feeling like you’re rejecting the people who raised you as their own can’t help, nor can the isolation involved in an endeavor that not everyone can understand.

“Lion” captures both the optimism of the modern world where anything is possible, and, the despair that is unavoidable for someone scanning the world on their laptop with few clues as to what they want to find. The poignancy of this true story will mean a great deal to anyone with a question mark in their past, but it’s also a universal tale that anyone and any family can appreciate.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.

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