Oscars: 'Lion' Screenwriter Reveals Which Scene "Brings a Tear to My Eye"

Lion Still - Publicity - H 2016
Mark Rogers/Long Way Productions

Luke Davies struggled over a key onscreen moment — one that he had to be talked out of shortening — that led to a powerfully authentic result.

Luke Davies knows something about putting real life on the big screen. The Lion screenwriter adapted his own 1997 book Candy, a semi-autobiographical novel about his struggles to overcome heroin addiction, for the 2006 film version starring Heath Ledger. And it was the producer of that film, fellow Aussie Emile Sherman, who approached Davies to potentially adapt the incredible true story of Saroo Brierley — who got lost on a train in India at age 5, was adopted by an Australian couple and then reunited with his birth mother 25 years later.

"It wasn't a job offer. It was kind of an audition thing," Davies recalls. "I thought Saroo's story was so pure and so elemental that it would be a lovely challenge to see if we could just begin at the beginning, at the moment of catastrophe for 5-year-old Saroo, and allow the story to move forward chronologically."

Davies says he drew from multiple influences, from Wall-E (he thought of "that little robot wandering around that post-apocalyptic, blighted landscape" while penning early scenes) to Marcel Proust — whose famous device, a madeleine cookie, unlocks memories for the protagonist of In Search of Lost Time. "I borrowed that notion for an odd moment in the kitchen when adult Saroo [Dev Patel] sees the jalebis frying in a friend's kitchen. Like the madeleine, the jalebis reactivate all these deep memories."

A conversation between Saroo's mother, Sue (Nicole Kidman), and her adult son presented Davies' toughest challenge. "She's kind of losing it because she thinks the family's falling apart," he explains, adding that he had pushed for a shorter version in which Sue does not relay her vision — of a dark-skinned child approaching her in a field — that inspired her to adopt. "I tried versions where that vision part wasn't in there. But Garth [Davis, the director] was like, 'No, this is one of those non-negotiable ones.' When I see the scene now, it brings a tear to my eye."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.