Seven Years in Tibet

Brad Pitt stars in this movie taking place during the childhood of the Dalai Lama, during the wild troubles of World War II. Heinrich (Pitt) is an Austrian mountain climber who cares only for the latest climb, leaving behind his pregnant wife. He ends up being captured by the British in India (just for being there) and sent off to a POW camp. He and a fellow climber are able to barely escape and make their way into Tibet, where they end up with the young Dalai Lama.

Much like Kundun, the story mixes visions of the boy Dalai Lama looking down at the world with his telescope, the growing influence of the Chinese, and the beauty of the Tibetan culture. Heinrich boasts about his exploits and mountain summitting, while the local Tibetan calmly points out that in Tibet people aim more towards being content and humble than in being the best.

The movie is a great study in characters. Heinrich is always yelling out "look at me!" and "I can do this alone!" Peter (David Thewlis, 'Remus' in Harry Potter films) is a team player, more quiet, the one who understands relationships.

It is the little details that shine here, the rough walls, the hand-made decorations, the alpine flowers cared for in pots, the sparkling gleam of gems in a marketplace necklace. The breezes flutter up the tent above a summertime meeting.

I am not an expert in Tibetan culture, but I did have to wonder at the "tailor" female character. Everything I've seen up until now has the female characters with a single or double braid of hair, plain and elegant, with quiet humility. The "Tailor" had almost a Bo Derek hundred-strands - was this a concession to Western tastes? Or was she the one unique woman in all of Tibet that they just happened to find?

You really feel the clash between the core values. The Tibetans did not want to even harm worms in the construction of a building for the Dalai Lama. They delicately transported the worms to a new, happy location. How could they resolve themselves to killing human beings?

One of the things I disliked about this movie when compared with Kundun (which tells a similar story of the Dalai Lama's youth) is that in this one the Dalai Lama seems like a weak child guided completely by Heinrich. It is Heinrich who completely informs the Dalai Lama about all things international, who shapes his world view, who guides him towards when to take power and when to retreat. I found it a very paternalistic view of the situation, that this poor innocent little Tibetan, with no rational adults around him, had to rely on this foreigner Austrian to have any growth and direction in his life.

Still, the movie provides a lot of information about Tibet during this time period, and is worth seeing.

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