Scarcely taking note of my dwindling gas tank, I drove one final time to the movie theater during the week of January 20th. It was the Sunday following the inauguration, and while the Big Events of the week had since passed, the smaller news-bites that steadily emerged throughout the day made sure to keep my inner sense of doom afloat just fine. Naturally, I knew I had to squeeze in one last visit to the movies, for sanity’s sake.
This time I saw Lion, the Oscar-nominated film based on the incredible true story of Saroo Brierly. In 2008, Brierly used the then-novel Google Earth software to track down his mother and brother, whom he was separated from as a child in his native India. With a premise like that, one would expect that this film would be moving upon going in, and yet I–a notorious cryer, I might add–was still shocked by how emotional I became while watching. Luckily, I was one of only five people in the theater on that cold, wet, football-season-strong Sunday evening, and I could hear everyone else weeping with deep, snotty sniffs at the same moments I was, so my tears weren’t that disruptive (hopefully).
What was most striking to me about Lion was its intimacy—I could have been in a theater full to capacity, and I still would have felt as if I was the only person in the room. There were moments in which Dev Patel and Rooney Mara just…looked at each other. And I wept? Not quite knowing the reason why? The whole cast was just so fixated on each other, so unreserved with their emotions, that it was breathtaking.
Performances like these feel especially crucial at the moment, since empathy has become our country’s most valuable commodity. And even so, Lion still goes a step further as an empathy generator by encouraging activism. Years before the adult Saroo Brierly conducted his great Google search, he suffered as a street child in India, where over 80,000 children go missing each year. So, the film is using its influence in an offscreen charity campaign to benefit homeless children in India and around the world. If that doesn’t make you want to reach for your wallet–whether to donate to the campaign or to buy a movie ticket–then I don’t quite know what will.
Most of all, Lion is a film about racial identity and diaspora, and the bonds that people share regardless of borders. This is why the rejection of eight-year-old Sunny Pawar–who plays a crucial role in the film as Young Saroo– was increasingly devastating to learn about, especially since this controversy caused him to be unable to attend the film’s premiere in LA. The consequences of the presidential election continue to rear in glaring and sharp ways, and although Sunny was eventually granted permission to enter the country and promote the film here, the anti-immigrant sentiment of the original act remains unsettling and unjust.
The experience of watching a movie in the theater is a great use of your time when times are troubled, if you’re able. Perhaps going four times in a single week is a bit excessive, but as I indicated in a previous post, there is an unquantifiable feeling of unity that comes from experiencing the same thing among a group of strangers, of taking a couple of hours to sit with people and simply watch.
In addition, by going to the movies, you get to directly support the kinds of stories that you want to see more of in the future. Personally, I want to see more films starring people who are often underrepresented, and in roles that are complex and full of dimension. This wish especially includes women and people of color. Looking back at this week of four films, I believe that I voted well with my dollar, and I hope to further engage in activities that promote positive change.