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Soundtrack review: Lion (Dustin O’Halloran & Hauschka – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Lion (Dustin O’Halloran & Hauschka – 2016)


Five year old Saroo (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”) gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Twenty five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home. This is the story of “Lion” and the score was written by Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, two names that usually bring me joy.

A story like this somehow writes itself musically in my head; it’s not something that hasn’t been done before, including the setting so I can related to the emotions in brings and I can imagine how I would like the score to be. As the main theme reveals itself to me in “Lion theme” with a beautiful piano section that sits on the edge between joy and melancholy I am happy to find what I was looking for. The bonus is that both composers are keen on experimenting musically so even if I anticipated the general idea, the way they put it practice is much better.

I am not sure which composer wrote which cue but I can only guess that Hauschka’s influence is more present in the piano pieces. The second cue “Train”, a heartbreaking violin theme shows me the other end of the emotional spectrum of this score. The strings make me feel every note and they cut a deep wound of loss. This is the one word that best describes this cue; the second violin motif, more frantic, makes me think of the endless row of images you see while riding the train as you get further and further away from where you left from. For me few musical techniques are more efficient for expressing emotion than a string section stripped of anything else.

“Lost (part one)” is a wonderful improvisation as each section of the cue feels like a different expression or worry and loneliness. The piano and the strings are slightly distorted and they feel more natural this way. The distorted strings are a big part of “Lion” and somehow they help me connect better with the main character and his fears. I like how the composers turned the music inward; for me the score is an exploration of the character’s state of mind and feelings and how the outside world influences and twists them.

I like the contrast between the more agitated distorted string themes and the quiet and emotional piano pieces. For me the piano will always win because I’ve always had a special connection with this instrument so I am happy to discover solo piano cues in this score. Moments like “Orphans” and “A new home” are beautiful and make me feel; they are simple and yet so telling.

The main theme comes back in “Family” as an extension of the main character. The theme is catchy and I have an easy time recognizing it and remembering it; it’s light and it brings a nice color to the score and movie. With a nice main theme and instrumental experiments and musings that keep me connected for the duration of the score, “Lion” explores a lot with a limited number of musical instruments. The composers blend their styles into a melancholic and minimalistic score that gives me the sensation of a kaleidoscope with its colorful patterns and reflections as the light comes through.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 25 / 45

Album excellence: 51%


Lion Theme


Lost (Part One)

A New Home



Searching for Home

Layers Expanding Time


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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