Playtime Column


Two road pictures this weekend and I’m exhausted.

The first was the awesome “Lion,” a film that’s up for an Oscar as the Best Film of the year. It covers the travels of a five-year-old boy from India to Tasmania and back.

The second road trip was the repetitive daily bus ride through the town of Paterson, New Jersey, by a driver whose name, ironically, is Paterson. The film is kind of like “GroundHog Day,” in which the protagonist keeps repeating the day’s events over and over until he gets it right. But for Paterson there is no reprieve.

In “Lion” an absolutely mesmerizing little boy, Sunny Pawar (named Saroo in the film) is left on a bench in a train station to wait for his older brother, who has gone on an errand. When his brother doesn’t return right away, Saroo goes off to search for him and winds up in an empty passenger car. As the train begins to move, Saroo is trapped and can’t get off until he arrives in Calcutta, nearly 1,000 miles from his home.

Since he is only five years old he doesn’t know his last name or the name of the shanty-town in which his family lives. And he identifies his mother only as “Mum.” But because he is exceptionally bright he manages to sense danger and escape it. He runs from policemen, sleeps on the ground with other street children, scavenges food from garbage pails, and runs away from a woman whose kindness masks her intention to sell him into the child sex trade.

Eventually he is plucked from jail by a woman who finds adoptive parents for homeless children and he is adopted by an Australian couple, the Brierleys (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), who take him to live in Tasmania, where he grows into a kind and loving young man. As Dev Patel plays him, he is the kind of young man that every mother would want.

At the age of 25, however, he begins to be haunted by snatches of memory from his childhood and he develops a need to return to India to find his biological family. He spends the next six years researching and, with the help of Google Earth, he identifies the area he came from and returns to visit his mother and reassure her that he is alive. And he returns again and again, bringing his Australian parents to meet his biological mother and then returning to his life with them in Tasmania.

This beautiful film, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, is made even more poignant because it is a true story. It comes from the book “A Long Way Home” written by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose, with the screenplay written by Luke Davies and the film directed by Garth Davis.

The second film, “Paterson” is also a travel film. But in this one the major mover is a bus. Whereas in “Lion” the protagonist bravely moves across two continents, in “Paterson” the protagonist remains forever in the same town, on the same route, seemingly imprisoned by his circumstances and his bus.

He has a weird wife whom he loves, and she obviously loves him. Her days, however, are filled with strange obsessions: she paints everything in the house black and white. Including the white drapes that she covers with black circles and the chair their English bulldog, Marvin, sleeps on, which she has embellished with wavy black lines. She covers a black skirt with long white lines and bakes dark chocolate cookies and covers them with wavy lines of white frosting. But she greets her husband happily when he comes home from work and she appears satisfied with her day.

After a silly dinner which she invents, he takes Marvin for a walk, stops in for a single beer at the local bar, and comes home. But the surprise in his day is that he spends all his free time creating poetry in a notebook that he always carries with him. The poems are whimsical in nature and often quite lovely.

And then they go to sleep. He wakes up the next morning in the six o’clock hour, eats his bowl of Cheerios while she continues to sleep, he kisses her gently and goes off to work, where he will drive his bus mutely, listening once in a while to the conversations of his passengers, and waiting patiently until it’s time to return home to his wife and dog.

This is a film that you want to love. It’s written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, a well- respected “auteur” who’s made a number of films that you probably don’t remember.

I actually did love this soft, gentle film in the beginning, but after the third repetition of the day’s activities, with four more to go, I was overcome with ennui and almost envied the man at the end of the row who was snoring loud enough to wake the dead.