Perhaps the most obvious theme in the film is identity. Initially, Saroo's identity is defined by his Indian upbringing. It is normal for him to work alongside his family collecting coal for a living. When he gets separated from his brother, he maintains his sense of self, yet cannot identify himself to strangers in a way that will return him to his family. An even larger shift occurs once Saroo is adopted. As he grows up in Sue and Jim's Tasmanian home, he begins to assimilate more and more to Western, white Australian culture and soon memories of eating jalebis and going on train rides with his brother begin to fade. Nonetheless, something as big as his heritage cannot be ignored for his whole life, which is why, when he is questioned at university about his background Saroo claims he is not really Indian, it opens up the doors to reunite both of his identities, as both an Indian and Australian. Saroo's main journey, once he has unlocked his memory of his early life, is to bridge the gap between his two identities and tie up the loose ends of his early traumatic experience.
Economics and Poverty
This theme is harshly depicted by the alternating scenes of Calcutta with Australia. In his early childhood, Saroo lives in poverty, with him and his brother needing to work in order to bring in money to his family. Then, when he is homeless in Calcutta, Saroo witnesses a great deal of desperation: on the streets, in Noor's care, at the orphanage. Everything changes when Saroo is adopted by a middle-class Australian couple, Sue and John, who live in a nice house on the ocean and enjoy sailing. Having witnessed Saroo's journey, the viewer sees the stark contrast between these two socioeconomic realities. A big part of Saroo's reckoning with his identity is about making peace between the two sides of his upbringing, having known both poverty and bourgeois comfort.
Memory and Geography
Saroo's memories of India fade when he gets older and he thinks primarily of going to college and making a lot of money. However, when his memory gets triggered by seeing a jalebi at a house party in Melbourne, he begins to develop curiosity about his origins, and a classmate recommends he use Google Earth to try and figure out where he comes from. He then embarks on an obsessive quest for answers, using his fragmented memories and the technological tool of Google Earth to help himself piece together the story of his childhood.
Love is another major theme in the movie and is Saroo's guiding light throughout his entire journey. The love for his mother and family is what keeps Saroo going when times are tough. Then, when he is adopted by the Brierleys, they show him a great deal of unconditional love, raising him as their own child. While Saroo worries that he has disappointed his adoptive parents and that his search for his birth parents will alienate them, Sue lets Saroo know that they love him greatly and always will.
When Saroo meets his birth mother, he leaves a voice message for Sue and John, telling them that he is overjoyed to be reunited, and that he will always love them as his parents. Love binds them together, even through very difficult and complicated situations.
Pain and Self-Harm
While Saroo is a particularly sunny and resourceful young boy, he witnesses a great deal of suffering. He must fend for himself on the streets of Calcutta, and then gets a taste of injustice when he sees the mistreatment of a disturbed boy at his orphanage. Traumatic scenarios and mental illness have caused the boy to hit his head and be antisocial. Then, when Saroo lives with the Brierleys, his adoptive brother is depressive and self-harming, often hitting himself and throwing tantrums. Saroo resents the pain that this behavior causes his parents, but eventually learns to forgive and love his brother.
The film is broadly about family, but it is especially about the bond between a mother and child. Saroo and Sue have a special bond from day one, and he loves her as he did his biological mother. Then, when she finds out he wants to meet his birth mother, Sue is very supportive of Saroo's desire and offers him maternal support. Saroo's journey to India and reunion with his mother is especially heartwarming, an incredible story of loyalty and love. Thus, we see that motherhood is an essential theme in the film.
Intuition and Survival
Saroo is astoundingly lucky. After getting separated from his brother at a train station, he ends up on a train to Calcutta that does not stop for several days. After surviving this ordeal, he manages to live on the streets of the large and dangerous city, avoid getting sold into sexual slavery, and survive an overcrowded and poorly run orphanage. Not to mention, he is only five years old. Saroo's story is about resilience, intuition, and the instincts of a survivor. Even in the face of incredible odds, Saroo manages to pull through and live.
Lion (2016 Film) Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Lion (2016 Film) is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.