Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Kundun is a 1997 film written by Melissa Mathison and directed by Martin Scorsese. It is based on the life and writings of the Dalai Lama. While it did not put up big numbers at the box office, it did win considerable critical acclaim -- some consider it to be the very best film by either Scorsese or Mathison.
Except for brief sequences in China and India, the film is set entirely in Tibet. It begins with the search by Reting Rimpoche (the regent of Tibet) for the 14th Reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Reting, following a vision he has had, discovers the location of a promising candidate: a child born to a poor herding family near the Chinese border.
Reting and other lamas administer a test to the child in which he must select from various objects the ones that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama. The child passes the test; he and his family are brought to Lhasa, where he will be installed as Dalai Lama when he comes of age.
During the journey, the child becomes homesick and frightened, but he is comforted by Reting, who tells him the story of the first Dalai Lama -- whom the lamas referred to as "Kundun". The story is touching, but it is also intended to show the interconnectedness of all incarnations of the Dalai Lama up to and including the child himself.
As the film progresses, Kundun matures both in age and learning. Following a brief power struggle in which Reting is imprisoned and dies, Kundun begins taking a more active role in governance and religious leadership.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Communists are making noises about Tibet being a "traditional" part of China and their desire to "unify" it with the motherland. Eventually, despite pleas to the United Nations and the United States for intervention, Tibet is invaded by China.
The Chinese are initially helpful, but when the Tibetans resist communist reorganization and re-education of their society (the Tibetans are particularly repulsed by the Communists' ban on religion), the Chinese become oppressive.
Following a series of incresingly horrific atrocities suffered by his people (and several attempts on his life) the Dalai Lama resolves to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing, feeling sure that Mao will make things right. However, during their face-to-face meeting on the final day of the Dalai Lama's visit, Mao makes clear his view that "religion is poison" and that the Tibetans are "poisoned and inferior."
Upon his return to Tibet, the Dalai Lama learns of even more awful horrors perpetrated against his people, who have by now repudiated their treaty with China and begun guerrilla action against the Chinese. Finally, after the Chinese make clear their intention to kill him, the Dalai Lama is convinced by his family and his Lord Chamberlain to flee to India.
After consulting the oracle about the proper escape route, the Dalai Lama and his staff put on disguises and slip out of Lhasa under cover of darkness. During an arduous journey, throughout which they are pursued by the Chinese, the Dalai Lama becomes very ill and experiences several visions of the past and future. Finally, the party makes it to a small mountain pass on the border with India. As the Dalai Lama walks to the guard post, an Indian guard approaches him, salutes, and inquires: "May I ask, are you the Lord Buddha?" The Dalai Lama replies with the film's final line: "I think that I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I am trying to be a good man, see yourself."
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