In 1937, a two-and-a-half year old boy from a simple family in Tibet was recognized as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, and destined to become the spiritual and political leader of his people. Director Martin Scorsese brings to the screen the true story of the Dalai Lama. Told through the eyes of His Holiness, "Kundun" brings to life the account of the Dalai Lama’s early life, from childhood through the Chinese invasion of Tibet and his journey into exile. (Rotten Tomatoes)
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Kundun Movie Review
The movie “Kundun,” directed by Martin Scorsese, takes the viewer back to the earliest days of the fourteenth Dali Lama. It chronicles his early family life in the 1930s and the “discovery” that he is the reincarnation of the thirteenth Dali Lama. This realization is uncovered when a monk, to whom the future Dali Lama’s family offers hospitality and a place to rest in a remote area of Tibet, meets the very young boy. The movie provides some background to the process of divination by which the followers of a former Dali Lama attempt to locate his reincarnated self.
In contrast to the joyful, happy days of the Dali Lama’s youth, the movie also provides some insight into the competition and power struggles that occur between the monks and the advisors within Lhasa. This is especially heated due to disagreements as to how to deal with the encroaching Chinese army and acts of loyalties and betrayals occur. The movie continues through the Dali Lama’s adolescence and young adulthood up through the decision to leave Tibet and go to India.
The music and especially the photography do much to add not only to the enjoyment of the story, but also to add to the understanding of the country, culture, and historical context of the time. It would be appropriate to use not only with high school students, but I believe viewing certain portions or scenes could be good sources in middle school.
Kundun - "His Presence"
Courses: AP World History, AP US History, Survey of World Religions elective
Warrior Run High School, Turbotville, PA
The 1997 film entitled Kundun, directed by Martin Scorsese, depicts the key events in the life of fourteenth Dalai Lama from 1937 to 1959. Instead of a continuous storyline, the film is divided into segments, beginning with the discovery of a peasant Tibetan boy, who proves to be the reincarnated Bodhisattva of Compassion. The Dalai Lama grows and matures as a Buddhist monk to fulfill his role as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Referred to throughout the film as ¨Kundun,¨ meaning, ¨his Presence,¨ His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, epitomizes Buddhist compassion, devotion, and a commitment to nonviolence. He learns to navigate internal political challenges, while apprenticing under his advisors and the regent in the management of spiritual and political affairs. His ever-present desire to learn and understand the world outside of Tibet, contributes to his vision for his nation to journey towards modernization. The second half of the two hour and fourteen minute film illustrates the evolving political situation the Dalai Lama faces in the 1950´s as the Chinese Communists increasingly take control of Tibet. Despite numerous attempts to diplomatically work with the Chinese Communists, unprovoked violence towards the Tibetan people, the proposal of biased treaties, and betrayals by communist officials, results in the covert evacuation of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959.
This film would be very useful for students and teachers to develop a greater understanding of the selection process and duties of the Dalai Lama. Additionally, the film provides opportunities to learn about the function of oracles, Tibetan sky burial, and other ritual practices and beliefs. Kundun presents events of the 1950’s from the historical and political perspective of the the Tibetan government and people. The Tibetans’ attempts to initially cooperate with the Chinese and seek help from Western powers prove futile as the Chinese increasingly try to assimilate Tibet into the People’s Republic of China. The film uses dramatic, artistically symbolic representations of death and destruction at climactic points to reinforce Chinese atrocities. Teachers may find selective scenes from the film useful in illustrating these concepts for their students.