In the Mining Netflix series, we usually post the best of the internet’s films that didn’t get a wide release, or didn’t have a big marketing budget. Not the hipster obscure films, but the good stuff that falls through the cracks, movies most folks might not have had a chance to see. To feature 2016’s Lion in this column is a bit disingenuous. The film garnered six Oscar nominations, though it failed to nab any, and made waves on the film festival circuit too. Still, it’s now on Netflix, and worth a watch for a good cathartic cry. Mild spoilers ahead, but none that ruin the film’s ending.

The movie is biographical, based on the book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley. Saroo grew up in rural, impoverished India, and at age five, was accidentally separated from his family and placed in an orphanage. He was adopted by a young Australian couple, who raised him and his adopted brother Mantosh. When he reaches college, he has an identity crisis, remembering that his biological family has been living with the reality of his disappearance for nearly two decades. With the help of Google Earth, Saroo uses what little memory he has left from age five to digitally scour the country for clues to find his way home.

One of the film’s tensions is the guilt Saroo feels for pulling away from his adopted mother to search for his biological mother. In his mind, the search is a search of ingratitude, a rejection of the steadfast love his mother gave him from a young age. The issue is compounded by his brother Mantosh’s mental illness, which manifests itself in self-harm and has negatively impacted his mother’s health. Resentful that Mantosh can’t/won’t appreciate his parent’s love, Saroo feels a double burden of gratitude for his adoption, made sharper by his aging mother’s failing health.

The guilt is resolved/absolved when he finally tells his mother his plans. From the screenplay:

Saroo: I’m sorry you couldn’t have your own kids.

Mother: What are you saying?

Saroo: We… we… weren’t blank pages, were we? Like your own would have been. You weren’t just adopting us but our past as well. I feel like we’re killing you.

Mother: I could have had kids.

Saroo: What?

Mother: We chose not to have kids. We wanted the two of you. That’s what we wanted. We wanted the two of you in our lives. That’s what we chose.


Mother: That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with your dad.


Mother: Because we both felt as if…the world has enough people in it. Have a child, couldn’t guarantee it will make anything better. But to take a child that’s suffering like you boys were. Give you a chance in the world. That’s something.

For Saroo’s adoptive parents, it was never a question of second best, but of total election. Saroo had always assumed that, as an adopted child, he was the backup plan, that his past was baggage for his parents to overcome. It was a word of grace to him to discover that he was always Plan A, chosen, and exactly what his parents always wanted.

Adoption as a biblical metaphor is similar. Nobody is adopted by accident. It’s always Plan A to be chosen to join a family. Saith Ephesians: “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” There’s freedom in that election, freedom to deal with past baggage and wrap up the stories that were started on the book’s first few pages. There’s freedom to be Saroo, the high-achieving son who succeeds even of the odds are stacked against him. There’s also freedom for Mantosh, who received a loving family context in which he could work out his mental illness.

Any film about adoption is low hanging fruit for biblical metaphor. But in this case, it’s especially apt. Also, Dev Patel is a phenominal actor, and Sunny Pawar as young Saroo is beyond adorable. Bring the popcorn and the tissues.