In "Kundun,' director Scorcese seems to ask, "Who is this man?' The film is an act of devotion, visually and musically inspiring.
As it opens, in 1937 Tibet, monks place belongings of the deceased 13th Dalai Lama, mixed in with some things that weren't his, before a young boy. The boy picks the correct ones, childishly exclaiming, "Mine! Mine!' As the monks take the boy with them two years later to train him to take his historic role as the 14th Dalai Lama, a monk says, "You have chosen to be born again.'
At the summer palace with dogs, peacocks, and deer, the young Dalai Lama sees footage of Hiroshima's bombing. Two years later, the Chinese invade Tibet, and the boy must defend his homeland without breaking his religious vows of nonviolence. Reading a letter from the 13th Dalai Lama, foretelling that the Chinese will destroy religion in Tibet, and that he and his followers might be reduced to becoming wanderers, he asks, "What can I do? I'm only a boy,' to which his advisers reply, "You are the man who wrote this letter; you must know what to do.'
Literal faith in reincarnation, that the child is the same person as the man who died four years before, is the heart of the film. Shown as the life of the 14th Dalai Lama, "Kundun' offers us deep spirituality, and is thus somehow similar to a popularized life of a Catholic saint the director probably read as a boy. Unlike Scorsese's Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ,' the young Dalai Lama strives for perfection in the shape of a man, and the film is somewhat wiser and more beautiful than the recent "Seven Years in Tibet.'
When Chairman Mao meets with the Dalai Lama to tell him that "religion is dead," the Dalai Lama can't look into the face of a man so removed from faith, and instead looks at Mao's polished Western-style shoes, which symbolize the loss of old ways and values.
Most of the actors are actual Tibetan Buddhists, and in many scenes, their serenity casts a spell, and the visually-rich sets show them in a tabernacle of their faith. "Kundun' is unreservedly committed to its vision, willing to break away from audience expectations and follow its heart, with great visual elegance.
Martin Scorcese and Melissa Mathison
Tenzin Yeshi Paichang, Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin, Gyurme Tethong, Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong,
Tibet, 14th Dalai Lama, Chinese invasion, religious rights
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