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Friday, March 24, 2017

Film Review: Lion (2017), Identity, Assimilation and The Reluctant Fundamentalist

 "I always thought that I could keep this family together. I need you, Saroo."
Starring: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Written By: Luke Davies
 Adapted from "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley
Directed By: Garth Davis
Release Date: January 6, 2017
Who we are and where we come from are fundamental concepts when it comes to creating an identity for yourself. The feeling of belonging is also key when it comes to solidifying. Garth Davis' Lion is a film that examines how the people around us truly affect the way we see ourselves in a world that has us constantly questioning who we truly want to be.  
Lion is the true story of a young boy named Saroo who finds himself lost after he falls asleep on a freight train while waiting for his older brother, Guddo. The tale is broken up into two parts. The first part involves Saroo's struggle to survive after he finds himself on the opposite end of the country hungry and alone, without much knowledge of where he's come from. It's heartbreaking and this is mainly because this part of the film so tightly constructed. In many films about missing children, we typically see the perspective of the family and we feel for them because we can fully understand what they're going through. Here it's the other way around. He has no idea where he is, why he's there or how he can get back. In one scene, Saroo falls with other homeless children, but he's woken up by some strange men. They all flee and Saroo escapes, but the situation is never mentioned again. Both Saroo and the audience members know something is wrong, but he doesn't know exactly what's happened, so neither do we. The world is a big and scary place for a boy that hasn't even hit puberty yet. Leaving out all this information makes it just as scary for us as it is for him.
The second part of the film involves an all grown-up Saroo played by Dev Patel as he searches for his real family. Saroo was adopted by an Austalian family halfway throughout the film. Seeing a treat from his old life at a party brings him right back to the moment he laid eyes on them when he was child. Many years have gone by and these years are omitted from film probably because it would have made the film far too long, but the film's lack of a cohesive narrative structure doesn't deter us from fully understanding Saroo's situation. Who he was during that huge time gap isn't of importance because he didn't know who he because he was assimilating to a new culture. Cultural assimilation is the process in which a person's culture comes to resemble another and when Saroo moves to Australia that's immediately what happens. All of the different elements of this new culture are thrust to him at once and it's why he sort of forgets his family back at home and throws himself into adapting and fully understanding this new culutre as he grows up. He mispronounces words and is mesmerized by the concept of a television, but like his new parents, we're happy him and this is pretty much all we need to see of Saroo's assimilation. When we encounter Saroo as an adult in the second part of the film, some momentum is lost because it is such a huge time jump, but we're slowly drawn back in once the film speeds back up and we see the toll that his assimilation has taken on him. 
When we're first introduced to Saroo as an adult, we see that his life looks great. He was once solid in his relationship with his mother (Nicole Kidman) and girlfriend, (Rooney Mara), as well as his future in the field of hospitality, but soon that all crumbles once he's reminded of the life he once had that he'd forgotten about. Though assimilation seems to have done him well because of the way his life is now going, it's not okay to loose yourself and completely forget where you come from because it will always be a part of you. Saroo not knowing where he came from to begin with or even having anyone to teach him about where he came from as a child is what makes him so succeptible to full cultural assimilation. This is also what makes it overtly difficult for him to realize where he belongs when he's reminded that the culture that he's been submerged in is not his own. 
Who is he now? Who would he have become had he not gotten lost all those years ago? What's happened to his real family? And more importantly, are they still looking for him? These are the questions that Saroo is now asking himself, but is on both sides of the fence because while he enjoys the life he's lived in Australia, he hypothesizes about the life he could've lived had he not gotten lost. The movie's tagline is: "The Search Begins," and while the movie depicts Saroo's search for his family, it's also about the search for his own identity because he doesn't know what he actually wants now that he knows there's another side of him.
In the 2012 film adaptation, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, our protagonist, Changez, has a similar dilemma. He assimilates just as Saroo does and he's confident about the person he's seemingly become until he sees something that throws him for a loop. Saroo's childhood snack sends him searching for himself. Changez' life-changing event was 9/11. The home he's found in America ends up turning on him and now he, like Saroo, finds himself at a crossroads. Unlike Saroo who is ignorant to his life at home because of his assimilation, Changez is fully aware of his life back at home in Pakistan. He enjoys his life in America and acknowledges his culture freely which is how assimilation is supposed to work. Assimiliation is supposed to be the mixing of different cultures, adapting the bits and pieces you wish to adopt in your life. However, after the events on 9/11, America no longer became so accepting of those choosing to assimilate as much or as little as they wanted. Only full assimilaition was acceptable and anyone that did not fit the picture perfect image of an America citizen was targeted, including Changez. This is why he attempts to go back home to Pakistan, but it's not that simple because Changez feels like America is more like home to him as he's adopted so much of the culture.While Saroo is putting most of the pressure on himself to decide, everyone else is urging Changez to figure out what he wants to do because he feels like he belongs in America, but everyone around him keeps telling him that he doesn't. 
The Reluctant Fundamentalist ends with Changez moving back to Pakistan to become a professor and with a voiceover of him saying, "Looks can be deceiving...I'm a lover of America", even though America seemingly betrayed him and forced him to go back home. Saroo ends up finding his way back home and reunites with his real mother, not without a heart-breaking conversation between he and Nicole Kidman. We do not know what's going to happen to these men in the future, but that's not the point. The point is that other people cannot dictact someone else's culture. Assimiliation is an idealogy that may never end up working because everyone feels the need to comment on or control someone else's life because they're different and it frightens us. It also can't really work becuase it can cause people to forget where they came from because trying to adapt to a new culture can be overwhelming. And both Lion and The Reluctant Fundamentalitst are two cautionary tales about what can happen if we push our own beliefs and values on someone without understand theirs.

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