It’s not often that I’m completely blown away by a movie. But this past weekend, on a whirlwind trip to New York City with my husband, we saw the Oscar-nominated film, “Lion.”
I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.
The themes of loss, guilt, redemption, and longing that run through this film pulled at my heart from the opening credits.
Lion is the incredible true story of Saroo, a young Indian boy who, at five years old, becomes separated from his family. He awakens on a train some two thousand miles from his home and, after a series of heart-wrenching and dangerous encounters with strangers, realizes he is lost and alone.
Eventually, he is adopted by a couple from Australia. I held my breath as little Saroo walked out of the plane and into the room where his adoptive parents were eagerly waiting to meet him. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t crying either. My guess is that in that moment he was feeling an uncomfortable mixture of sadness and confusion along with a tiny sliver of hope.
Nicole Kidman portrayed his adoptive mom, Sue. In that first meeting with Saroo, she knelt down, smiled at him sweetly, and through tear-filled eyes said, We’re so happy to see you…we’re your mum and dad.
As joyous a moment as that must have been for this couple who longed to adopt a child, my heart couldn’t help but ache for little Saroo and his longing to go home. This ache was deeper than I’d anticipated because I found myself suddenly overcome with emotion. You know the kind I’m talking about. The kind that seems to bubble up from nowhere and spill out through your eyes. Your nose. Your throat. My sobbing was audible and decidedly unflattering and terribly hard to control. As I sat there, embarrassed, watching my husband scramble to find a napkin or tissue for me, I found myself instantly connected to that little boy.
The story then jumps forward two decades. Saroo, now 30 years old, is a man with a good life and good friends. It’s evident he was raised in a loving home by a caring family. Still, for 25 years, he’s wondered about where his story began. You can sense that something is still pulling at him. A longing to return to India, to the home he remembers in his heart. And so he intensifies his search – using the new tool Google Earth – and slowly begins to piece together his fragmented childhood memories.
Yesterday, I came across a clip from an interview on Australian TV with Saroo and his (adoptive) mother, Sue. The interviewer asked Sue if she had been worried when her son first began his search. Was she worried he would find his birthmother and leave the life he’d known in Australia? Or worse – would he discover that perhaps his birthmother had abandoned him and didn’t want contact?
Sue wasn’t afraid of any of these things; her response to the interviewer was incredible.
She smiled and said that no she wasn’t afraid for herself, but rather for her son. She didn’t want him to be disappointed or hurt. But she wasn’t worried or insecure about his search for his birthmother. She said that although she didn’t know the circumstances of how he came to be her son, she knew from the first moment she saw him that he had been loved by a good mother. There was a kindness in his eyes and a warmth in his heart, she said, that told her he had been well taken care of.
Although this isn’t a traditional story of adoption (whatever that means), there are similarities that struck a chord with me. In the months following my son’s placement, I often wondered what kind of relationship would evolve between him and me and more specifically between me and his mother. I felt vulnerable and less than. Would the love I have for my son be questioned because of the choices I made? I’m embarrassed to admit being nervous that I would be categorized with negative stereotypes about unmarried girls that get pregnant. As it turns out my fears and worries were unfounded. For nearly 30 years, my son’s mother has never looked at me with anything other than kindness. She’s a good mother. And somehow she always made me feel that I could be good too.
I won’t ruin the movie’s ending, but let’s just say there are way more tears.
Tears of loss and struggle. Reunion and sadness. Closure and peace.
If you haven’t guessed, I loved this movie. This extraordinary story of a young boy whose name means Lion and his two mothers … it’s easily going down as one of my favorites, although I don’t know how easy it will be to watch again anytime soon. But it will definitely stay with me for a long time.