It’s always weird when people use products in movies. If a character picks up a Pepsi, I immediately assume Pepsi paid money for that to happen. Sell outs! But if a character picks up a generic can that just says “soda” on it, I can’t help but think that’s stupid because it’s not realistic. Why couldn’t the character just drink a Mello Yello? So this is a no-win situation inside my brain. I mention this because Google Maps plays a huge role in Lion, which just debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s the best advertisement ever made for Google Maps. “Hey, we can even help reunite you with your long lost family – pretty good product, huh?” But if Google maps weren’t used in this movie – replaced by a generic “internet map program” – it would be ridiculous because that’s not accurate. Anyway, in the end, this feature length commercial for Google Maps made me cry.
Garth Davis’ Lion, based on a true story, begins in 1987 when a young Indian boy, Saroo, and his brother are playing on the local train tracks. Their train adventures don’t stop with the tracks, as the pair often climb on top of the trains and wander inside the trains. Unfortunately, Saroo becomes trapped inside a locked train and is whisked away on a two-day long journey that takes him to Bengal, India. Lost, Saroo is almost captured a couple times by child traffickers (there’s a particularly grim, disturbing scene) before finally winding up in the hands of the authorities. They try to help him, but no one has ever heard of the city he says he’s from (he’s pronouncing it incorrectly) and he only knows his mother’s name as “Mum.” After some time in an orphanage, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), who move young Saroo to Tasmania.
The film speeds us forward 20 years. Saroo (Dev Patel) is by all accounts an successful, upstanding young man but he struggles with his identity. And this is what makes Lion so fascinating: Saroo knows he lives a life of privilege, but is overcome by guilt because he knows his family lives with the pain of loosing and not knowing what ever happened to him. He loves his adoptive parents (he has a complicated relationship with his brother, Mantosh, who was adopted by the Brierleys after Saroo) but feels an overwhelming urge to find his birth family – but that seems impossible because Saroo has no idea where he’s even from.
Enter: Google Maps.