Lion… a movie that needs to be seen more than once in order to remove the Hollywood feel of “a feel good movie.”


The movie opens with a landscape that is absolutely beautiful and after about 5 minutes of worshiping the sky and the air, and the general landscape, it cuts to utter poverty.

Like the push and pull factor, this movie finds its way into the heart of a prospective adoptive parent, stays in the heart of an adoptive parent but causes the heart of an adoptee to just break in so many ways.

There is a push to watch the movie because of all the hype it has received. There is an expectation to engage in this billion dollars industry if you want to really “make a difference” in the world. There is this sense of urgency to see, read and better understand the experience of a boy who got lost…and then was found.

Lion-the untamed bossy cat that is aggressive but also meant to protect. The beast that reigns supreme in a world, and with its valient roar, can calm the mighty seas.

This is the adoption industry. It IS the Lion and so it is no wonder the movie was named in this way.

The book The Long Way Home details the story of a five year old boy who gets lost on a train platform after begging his brother to take him to work with him. The boy spends a few months on the streets before being solicited and eventually landing in a children’s home that was not safe. A woman informs the boy that he will have a better life in Australia and that the home he was in was not fit for children like him.

He is taken to Australia and raised by a white couple who loves the idea of him. The mother dreamed of this moment where she would hold a brown boy. She could have kids of her “own” but because the world was overpopulated, giving a child in need a home was her focus.

Heroic right?

Savioristic? Maybe!

A selfless act? No.

As the movie progresses, it is fixated on how “bad” things were for Saroo. There is no highlight of the positive aspects of Calcutta, maybe because the movie was never meant to be for adoptees, but instead for adoptive parents.

The movie is filmed more from the perspective of the agency and adoptive parent. The visual it gives you is that because of the HORRIBLE situation, adoption was necessary. There was really no attempt to remedy the situation. The scene where Saroo and Gudu leave broke my heart. Gudu had such a close relationship with his brother but both decided it would be ok to leave their three year old sister behind. There was no mention of why they left their sister, or whether the mother would return before they left.

That scene would leave a victim of sexual assault very uncomfortable.

The movie was meant to pull at the heartstrings of those who had already adopted and heard about the tough conditions their kids came from, and for those who are thinking about adopting. Giving this image of poverty and how one can “lift someone out” of poverty is what draws attention to what we call in the adoption world-guilt. Why can some be saved and not others? Why can some have a better life, and not the others?

Who should I love more?

At the home, Saroo asks the case worker several times if they had found his mom. She assures him that they did the best they could and that no one stepped up.

As a victim of trafficking, I know that there is no way this could be true. A mother who loses their child does not stop looking. Ever.

The pull factor comes from the adoptee’s perspective. The story draws them in. An adoptee can relate to so many aspects of the movie because they are the experts in their adoption, not Hollywood, not adoptive parents, and not case workers. Adoptees hold the answers to how they feel-maybe not why, but definitely how.

Saroo is portrayed as a very happy child. He has faith that what his brother says at the train station is true. He believes his brother. Just like he believed the caseworker when she informs him that no one came  to claim him.

But he also believed that he was strong enough to handle such a rough world. There are times in this movie where he apologizes for choosing to leave his family. And yet as a child, one can only posses the mindset of a child. And for him, he wanted to be with his brother.

The connection between Saroo and Gudu is phenomenal. Not only was the acting impeccable, but anyone watching could see the importance of the primal wound within the siblings. His brother was his keeper and when he was adopted out, the second child who joined the family did not act in the same way. This made Saroo mad, and he appeared to feel second best. In a world that took so much away from him, he felt the new brother’s needs took the focus off of his needs.

Saroo adjusted well to the new home out of the need to survive. His brother did not adjust as well and his frustration and confusion was expressed outwardly as opposed to inwardly. All the while, their white mother chose to internalize both boys reaction, creating labels to assuage her own guilt.

Saroo was seen as the “good” adoptee whereas his brother Mantosh was seen as the difficult child who need to “control his temper and he will do good things.” This is common in adoption where there are more than one adoptees in this home. One is the good kid whereas the other is the bad kid. Saroo’s behavior is classic for those who were afraid of being sent back. He didn’t want to rock the boat and he also wanted to be the person who made his mother happy.

Towards the end of the film, his adoptive mother explains the need for Saroo to be in HER life but uses few words to explain what Saroo had lost. I am not sure if she was waiting for him to come out of the fog, or if she wished they could stay in the fog together. Saroo’s purpose was to make his mother happy, comfortable, and satisfied. He came to fulfill the dream she had as a child.

He was that brown boy she was meant to save. And yet, he felt the need to be grateful, the life he lived in India was so bad that he needed a savior.

Throughout the movie, Saroo is not given the opportunity to have an opinion-ever. His girlfriend spends a lot of time telling him how to feel, his friends try to make things “simple” for him-as if it is just a matter of math and you will find your way. His father expects him to keep the family together essentially by shutting up. His brother “ruins” the image Saroo had of the family he was raised in. His mother loves the idea of him but takes very little interest in understanding that when she adopted him, she also adopted his past.

It was almost as if the sadder his past was, the more she felt she was saving him.

Saroo can’t forget his past though he has buried many memories in order to survive. The life he lives in Australia is that of privilege. Why would he want more?

And yet the primal wound is one that every person has with their mother. The primal wound is what reminds us children that we came from somewhere. He wanted to retrace his steps and find out where he came from.

There is (He realizes that his brother is not required to call them mum and dad and feels a bit jealous that his brother has options and he does not), a mix of adoptee guilt with a sprinkle of anger and confusion when he does not allow himself to explore the emotional roller coaster he survived. Family separation, family loss, sibling loss, acquisition of a new family, the requirement to call them “mum and dad”, the learning to adjust, the thought that though you appear a certain way, what comes out of your mouth contradicts your physicality. It is all there. It is all buried, and some of his feelings surface as he interacts with other people who are from his country and seem to have a sense of pride about it.

Saroo did not share the sense of pride because it was not part of the conversation at home. There were no therapists involved in helping him sort out his feelings. His new life became a distraction and a form of pretending that his old life did not exist. And yet, he formed an attachment not necessarily because he loved his new family, but because he needed to survive in order to find his old family.

Hollywood failed to dig deeper. At the end of the movie it is clear that adoption is still a “necessity” as opposed to a damaging act on a child. At the end, Hollywood continued to portray the happy adoptee narrative except there was a touch of pepper-the need to distinguish between what is primal and what is purely experimental.

The importance of searching for your birth family is the new pull for many adoptees and because this movie only deals with about 40 minutes of the searching, it can create a sense of insecurity in an adoptee who is watching it. Searches do not get solved in the span of 40 minutes, but over a life time. From the minute Saroo got on that plane, he felt he had to survive in order to one day return.

Adoptees desire to find their roots, to see others who look like them, to better understand why they do certain things. Adoptees want their parents to know that they are still alive. But not all searches end the way Saroo’s did. Many searches end in sadness, and even more loss. Searching means reliving some of the worst memories one can have.

Searching is opening Pandora’s box and throwing away the top…forever.

Saroo finds his family but encounters more loss when finding out his brother was killed the same night he went missing. The brother, his protector, died trying to bring food to the family. Maybe this is why bonding with his new brother was so difficult. The new brother was forced on him. He had to learn to like and eventually love him. But his birth brother was one that was natural. His birth brother was meant to be.

The movie can leave an adoptee feeling angry because they tried to search and did not have the same result.

The movie can leave an adoptee even more confused, and with more questions.

The movie can leave an adoptee comatose-you want to say something, you want to cry, you want to express yourself, but you don’t know how all of that should manifest itself.

So you say nothing at all. 

The movie leaves an adoptive parent thinking that they did the right thing to take in a poor child.

The movie leaves an adoptive parent feeling good about what they did.

The movie leaves an adoptive parent feeling blessed.

Because their dreams have come true.

And for people who one day hope to create a family through the loss of another family. This movie tells them it is ok to do that because their life was so horrible. Instead of asking questions, and wondering how the child got there in the first place, the movie tells prospective parents that you shouldn’t question the authorities and you should just be happy with what you get.

The movie forgets to highlight the financial transaction that was made between the caseworker and the adoptive parents and how Saroo and Mantosh were purchased so that the family could be happy and feel good about themselves. The children had to adjust to the parents, it was not the other way around.

But Hollywood does that. That is how you make the box office. That is how you make money. That is how you stay in the fog.

After watching this movie, I got a back ache, a horrible headache and remained melancholy for the rest of the night. While watching the movie I was taken back to the time when I was with my birth family and then was trafficked. I know they searched for me, endlessly, until they realized that they too had to move on.

Watching this Hollywood production made me feel dirty. As an adoptee, should I enjoy it? It made me feel that #1, I should be thankful I didn’t wonder the streets for months and #2 that I was adopted.

They had the white hot lady who was Saroo’s partner and as per usual, she had no clue what it meant to date a person of color, and even less, an adoptee. She was colorblind which clearly bothered Saroo because he struggled with seeing himself as anything other than Australian. Having her in his life caused more confusion because the feeling of having to be grateful hung right in front of him.

I was so exhausted, and depressed, and confused…I was pushed in a way by society to watch the movie because it was one about adoption. It was supposed to be one I would be able to relate to. It was a story with a happy ending and you know…adoption is supposed to be a “good” thing. It saves children and makes white people happy.

The book pulled me, but the movie and society pushed me. I felt a great sense of pressure from myself to engage in a movie that I knew would make me feel many different ways.

And so I will watch it again…because I desire to grasp Saroo’s essence.

This is not a movie that you watch just one time. It is a movie that needs to be seen more than once in order to taste both the salt and the pepper in Saroo’s story.

His story unfortunately is not a unique one.

Unlike a Lion who is really just a giant bossy cat-Saroo’s tender and loving soul screams to be heard.


This entry was posted in Abuse, Adoption, Children, Family, Mental Health, Movie Review, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Lion… a movie that needs to be seen more than once in order to remove the Hollywood feel of “a feel good movie.”

  1. Anonymous says:

    thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am also an intl adoptee, and hesitant to see this movie bec i fear i will look at it too critically. As (one of?) the first mainstream movies to at least partially address the adoptee perspective, i want to give it room to breathe, i don’t want to hate it. but i fear the adoptive / agency perspective will overwhelm it for me, and i won’t be able to enjoy it. From my understanding, Saroo is also very much pro-adoption, so the positive message may very well be his true story, which makes that legitimate.

    Sorry to hear about the difficult parts of your history, i hope things are better for you now.

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