As we look back at childhood, we recall moments we memorize. We continue to see people, places and experiences that define how we view the world. And, years later, through a present-day lens, we try to remember those times that shape our lives, because we never know where those memories may take us.

In the touching film Lion, we first meet Saroo as a charming five-year-old in command of his immediate world in rural India. While he may live without comfort, he is surrounded by the love of an older brother he treasures and a mother he adores. By day, he and his brother explore their terrain with the swagger of two people on the search for treasure; by night he returns to the surroundings he calls home knowing the people he loves will be there in the morning.

But one night Saroo’s life will dramatically change. After his mother leaves for the evening, he begs to tag along as his brother searches for adventure. When the boys get separated, and Saroo wanders onto an empty train, a journey begins that will redefine his future. Suddenly Saroo is alone in a world he doesn’t understand. Only later, after surviving the streets of Calcutta, does he get the second chance that any child deserves, when he is adopted by a couple from Australia.

Director Garth Davis could have ended his film here with a heartfelt resolution. But there is more to this true story as the director fast-forwards a couple of decades to rediscover a grown Saroo who suddenly finds himself curious about his past. While the young man may have memorized moments from years gone by, he wonders if he could possibly solve the puzzle to find his family. With the help of Google Earth, Saroo begins an online journey he hopes will lead to an in-person miracle.

What makes Lion work so well is the distinctive style Davis gives each segment. Because the early moments of the film live in memory, the director stages images connected with limited dialogue. Then when the film shifts forward – and Saroo begins to search – the director begins to use a conventional narrative filled with traditional dialogue. This balance gives the film energy as the young man searches through his memory to find the clues to the past. As Saroo hopes the combination of memory and technology can help show him the way home, Davis gives us a movie to cherish.

The performances help, too. Dev Patel brings an intense seriousness to his portrayal of the older Saroo that differs from his earlier work in Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Rooney Mara, strong last year in Carlo, registers as a friend who supports his journey while Nicole Kidman touches the heart as a mother who teaches her son how to love. Kidman’s spontaneous performance bridges the two sections of the film with power and stability.

Like the best of movies about families, Lion reminds us what the people closest to us can mean. At this time of year, as we look for ways to let people know we care, sharing a film with such a strong message can create special memories with those we love.


  • Content: High. Director Garth Davis creates a meaningful journey as a young man searches for his home.
  • Entertainment: High. What a welcome relief to absorb such a thoughtful, meaningful film after a year filled with superficial entertainments.
  • Message: High. While entertaining, Lion also offers a lot to think about as we look at relationships that matter in our lives.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the meaning of family is time well spent.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After sharing this film with your children, take time to talk about what the family means to everyone.

(Lion is Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sensuality. The film runs 1 hour, 58 minutes. Reel Dad rating: Five Popcorn Buckets.)

Read more about films about families in the Reel Dad, Arts and Leisure, at

What movies teach about families: Terms of Endearment

by Mark Schumann, The Reel Dad

As we celebrate the family relationships in Lion, an Oscar winner from the past reminds us how much we can learn at the movies about the love that families share.

After all, any parent intends to be a positive influence on a child. But some parents, for no fault of their own, may not have what it takes to create a healthy environment for a child. Some may take years to figure out what this parenting thing is all about. And some may be too childlike in their own lives to provide what a son or daughter actually need.

Terms of Endearment takes us through 30 years of a turbulent relationship between a mother and a daughter. At times they clearly love each other; at others they simply can’t tolerate each other; throughout, they understand each other better than anyone else in their lives. The bonds they share withstand almost any challenge or distance; they are, simply, soul mates that make lifetimes rich. And they remind us that if fathers and sons require experiences to connect, mothers and daughters may require patience. That’s what we learn from this visit with a most domineering, yet loving mother who wants nothing more than for her daughter to live a happy life. She just doesn’t know when to stop pushing.

These are not perfect women. The mother, Aurora, is self-centered, self-indulgent and self-absorbed. She expects more than what may be appropriate from her daughter yet she believes in this woman at the same time. She may comment but dare anyone else to criticize her daughter in her presence. And she can see ahead of her daughter’s life in a way that makes her a cautious guide as well as essential support. The daughter, Emma, brings a mature command to her relationship with her mother that she cannot bring to her husband or sons. She becomes, for them, as incapable as her own mother was with her. The gifts from parents keep on giving.

Terms of Endearment captures the ups and downs of any relationship without trying to comment on every discussion. The film never takes a side as to what someone should say or do. Writer and director James L. Brooks takes us inside how these women, so strong in their ways, become less functional with others than they know how to be with each other. This ultimate love story about how the bonds that parents and children share can get in the way of how bond with other people.

Yes, parents can be curious animals. On one hand, we want our children to live their own lives while, on the other, we want them to always need us as when they were children. Terms of Endearment dares to examine how the dynamics between generations must always be ready to change. The film bounces from very funny to very sad, as it carefully reflects the real rollercoaster that loving someone can mean. Just because we love someone doesn't mean they are perfect. Terms of Endearment helps us appreciate how important it is to understand the imperfections we each possess. It inspires us to celebrate humanity. And it reminds us that some parents must be evaluated for what they try to be and not what they accomplish.

See you at the movies.