Though there are a number of movies addressing the topic of adoption, very few give us an honest and accurate picture of the delicate relationships and obstacles that the adoption journey so often involves. Very rarely do films and the media portray adoption with a view from all sides. That is what makes the 2016 film LION so special and profound.
The LION Movie Adoption Story Recap:
LION tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a young man who was born in India and accidentally separated from his family at the mere age of five. He was out with his brother, Guddu, when he got lost at a train station just a few miles from his home. Thinking he could navigate his way back, Saroo boarded a train only to be taken 1,000 miles further away to the big city of Calcutta. There, he asked for help; no one understood him due to a language barrier. Saroo became homeless for weeks, living off scraps of food, until someone helped him identify as a missing child.
From that point, well-meaning authorities tried to help Saroo find his family. They asked where he was from, but Saroo was unable to communicate the right location of his home. They asked for his mother’s name, but he had only ever known her as “Mum.” With little details to work with, they were unable to find his family. Because his birth family was poor and uneducated, they were unable to find Saroo.
Saroo was placed in a crowded orphanage where many children suffered. Soon after, he was adopted by an Australian couple. The unconditional love and devotion that Mr. and Mrs. Brierley have for Saroo from the very beginning of their relationship is one of the most powerful aspects of LION. Before Saroo fully learns English, Mrs. Brierley promises the child that she will always be there to listen to and support him. Someday, she says to Saroo, she wants to know all about his past. She wants him to know, too. One year later, they adopt a second son, Mantosh.
Flash forward twenty-five years later, Saroo discovers Google Earth, a new technology at the time, and uses it to find his birth home. Like many adoptees, Saroo has unanswered questions about his identity and his background. He yearns to fill the missing pieces, not out of disrespect for his adoptive family, but out of an inherent need to find himself. Most of all, he carries the silent, emotional anguish of having left his birth family behind. He firmly believes they are still looking for the boy they once lost.
Google Earth leads Saroo to the train station where he got lost as a boy. Then, it leads him back home.
At the end of the film, Saroo reunites with his birth mother, who embraces him with tears. She explains that she never stopped hoping for his return, but understands that he has another home and family now. She is ever-grateful to the Brierley’s, and is overjoyed to know Saroo is safe and well.
Saroo then calls his parents and assures, “I’m safe, and the questions have been answered. There are no more dead ends. I found my mother. She thanks you for raising me, and knows you’re my family. I found her, but it doesn’t change who you are. I love you, Mom and Dad, so much, and Mantosh.”
Adoption Themes in LION:
Search and Reunion: We recently had a conversation with a now-young adult adoptee, who was sharing his adoption story when the movie LION came up. Having an intercountry adoption, he related deeply to the movie’s main character, Saroo, and his need to search for his birth family. Overall, the young man explained, LION was “really close” – closer than most adoption portrayals we see on TV today – to getting the picture right. The main difference between his story and LION’s adoption story, though, was that “Saroo remembered.” Saroo remembered pieces of his history. Many adopted children do not.
Having been adopted at five, Saroo was able to recount some memories of his hometown, biological family, as well as train station landmarks from the day he got lost. These small fragments became key puzzle pieces in finding his birth mother and birthplace 25 years later. The search is not always this accessible, though there are more accessible resources today to guide the search and reunion process.
LION truly offers us a healthy perspective on search and reunion, from all sides of the adoption triad. From the adoptee perspective, it shows us that finding birth relatives can fill major gaps in a person’s identity, but it does not in any way replace the adoptive family’s role. The film also sheds light on many adoptive parents’ view of the adoption search. Mr. and Mrs. Brierley are consistently supportive of Saroo’s history and his search. They support his desire to know more, and rejoice when he finds his birth mother at last. Finally, LION honors the perspective of the birth mom, who always yearned for Saroo’s return. Upon reuniting, she celebrates his presence yet fully accepts that Saroo has another place in life.
Discovery: One thing LION really gets right is the notion that, even if history has been forgotten, it is still there to be rediscovered. Saroo may have forgotten where he came from, but his birth mother and childhood home remained there for him to find. He may have forgotten the train station near his home, but the water tower stood there for him to rediscover. In the final scenes of the movie, this theme of rediscovery transpires – As Saroo walks the streets of his hometown of Ganesh Talai, a name he could not remember as a child, the memories flood back to him. His past comes back to him, and he is finally able to rediscover and fulfill himself.
The Emotional Challenges of the Adoptee: Adoption is an emotional journey. As much love and gratitude Saroo has for his parents, he still struggles silently inside. Questions linger about his past. He does not want to betray his parents, but he also yearns for the truth. He withholds from searching until it nearly breaks him, bringing us to one of the most moving parts of LION: Saroo apologizes to his adoptive mother for not being a “blank slate.” He explains that by adopting he and his brother, she also adopted their past. He feels conflicted about searching, but his heart is telling him to do so.
Saroo resists his emotions quietly for some time, but his brother’s emotional challenges are brought forward throughout the film. Mantosh (also from India, where he was treated badly) experiences a breakdown on his first day at the Brierley home, and these trauma-related behaviors continue to the movie’s end. He also isolates himself as he grows older. The Brierley’s handle Mantosh’s behaviors as lovingly and calmly as any parent can, and continuously express their love and hope for their son. As they were for Saroo, they wanted to be there for Mantosh and his journey, whatever it might bring.
Family is Founded on Love: Perhaps the greatest theme of all in the LION movie adoption story is the fact that love is what makes a family “real.” There is no one-size-fits-all definition of family; families come in all shapes, sizes, and make-up. Mr. and Mrs. Brierley are Saroo’s parents, but they do not ignore the fact that his birth mother also plays an important role in his life. They are all connected through their love, respect, and admiration for one another. Saroo’s family is built on love.
What did you think about the adoption story in LION? Do you relate to Saroo, Mantosh, the Brierley’s, or Saroo’s birth mother? Adoptions With Love would be honored to hear your story!
For more information on adoption, or to learn about the Search & Reunion program at Adoptions With Love, please contact us at 1-800-722-7731. Amy, Nancy, Nellie, Claudia, or Amelia will be happy to arrange a time to meet or talk with you.