Martin Scorsese directs this epic based on the life of the present day Dalai Lama. In 1937 a monk roaming in Tibet proclaims that the two-year-old son of a rural family near the Chinese border is 'Kundun' - the reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, and next in line as Dalai Lama. The new Lama is instructed as to his new responsibilities, and moves to Lhasa, the capital. However, after being invested on his eighteenth birthday, the Lama is forced to reject a claim by China on Tibet. When China invades, the Lama retreats to a monastery for his own protection, but the Communists still pose a threat to both him and his country.
It would be a mistake to call Kundun
a disappointment, or a film that director Martin Scorsese was not equipped to create. Both statements may be true to some viewers, but they ignore the higher purpose of Scorsese's artistic intention and take away from a film that is by any definition unique. In chronicling the life of the 14th Dalai Lama, Kundun
defies conventional narrative in favour of an episodic approach, presenting a sequential flow of events from the life of the young leader of Buddhist Tibet. From the moment he is recognised as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1937 to his exile from Tibet in the wake of China's invasion, the Dalai Lama is seen as an enlightened spiritual figurehead. This gives the film its tone of serenity and reverence but denies us the privilege of admiring the Dalai Lama as a fascinating human character. There is a sense of mild detachment between the film and its audience, but its visual richness offers ample compensation. In close collaboration with cinematographer Roger Deakins, Scorsese filmed Kundun
with great pageantry and ritual, and meticulous attention to details of costume, colour and the casting of actual Buddhist monks in the scenes at the Dalai Lama's palace. Certain images will linger in the memory for a long time, such as the Dalai Lama's nightmarish vision of standing among hundreds of dead monks, their lives sacrificed in pacifist defiance of Chinese aggression. Is this a film you will want to watch repeatedly? Perhaps not. But as a political drama and an elegant gesture of devotion, Kundun
is a film of great value and inspirational beauty--one, after all, that perhaps only Scorsese could have made. --Jeff Shannon
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.