In this year's Oscar Best Picture race, there's a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, a romance-filled musical, and an eerie sci-fi thriller, among others. Yet while all the nominated films are powerful in their own ways, only one of them is guaranteed to leave you sobbing in the theater — the heart-wrenching drama Lion, a based-on-true-life story of a young man's search for his biological family years after being separated from them and adopted by a loving couple. And it's not just the audiences who are moved to tears by the film's tale — as the duo tell Bustle, the real Saroo and Sue Brierley of Lion are just as affected as regular viewers, if not more so, when they sit down to view the movie.
"It’s emotionally overwhelming — it’s such an overload," Saroo says, sitting across from his mother. "I’m pretty thick skinned and I’m not pretty easily moved... but it’s the first movie that I’ve actually gone to see and gone, 'wow.' It really rocked me."
For Sue, who, with her husband John, raised Saroo for most of his life, the movie is a lot to take in. "It's a very powerful film to watch, and it brings us to tears every time," she says. "We’re not immune to it, we’re so close to it, we can’t just brush it off." But it's the scenes in which her son is portrayed as a lost and scared child that are particularly difficult to watch, she says.
"It’s quite powerful for me, too, because I get to see incredible portrayals of parts of Saroo’s life that I knew very little about," she says quietly. "I knew that he was lost on the train... which is a very traumatic experience, but for me to see that portrayed so well by this tiny little child who was just like Saroo was when he was little, that really hurts."
Yet for all the pain scenes like those can bring, both Sue and Saroo say they're happy the movie is as affecting as it is. "We wanted authenticity, so we have to man up and cope with this," Sue says. And, Saroo adds, both he and his mother and are strong enough to do just that. "I think it just takes a real resilient sort of person, and I’ve lived it for a long time," he says.
Both mother and son are proud of the movie's success, and of the people involved with its making; Lion is directed by Garth Davis, with Sunny Pawar and the Oscar-nominated Dev Patel playing Saroo as his younger and older selves, respectively, and fellow Oscar nominee Nicole Kidman taking on the role of Sue. "The way that people have worked on every facet of the film, how every person involved just put their all into it... that’s just, for me, wonderful," Sue says.
The duo are hoping to celebrate the film's success alongside its cast and crew at the Oscars, but as of now, they're unsure if they'll be in attendance. "Cindy Adams just wrote a message on the back of a scrap paper to Harvey Weinstein saying, these two better have tickets to the Oscars or else," Saroo says with a laugh. No matter what, though, they're genuinely just thrilled to have been a part of the film's creation. Says Saroo, "It’s gone to so many different places... we’re extremely touched that it’s touching the hearts of people."
Lion may be the hardest Oscar-nominee to watch, but at least all of us sobbing viewers can take comfort in knowing that we're certainly not alone in our ears.