Kundun narrates the life of a little Tibetan boy, Lhamo, who comes to be identified as the 14th Dalai Lama. There is later never any doubt that he is not the reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. And, even today, the world sees him as a symbol of Compassion.
Tibet was violently annexed by China after Mao Tse-tung was victorious and had established Communism.
The famous words of the young boy Dalai Lama, when faced with the Chinese invasion, “What should I do, I am just a boy,” has been chronicled. Also filmed is Chairman Mao’s infamous saying, “Religion is poison”. Growing up in his Palace (Potala), the Dalai Lama learns that, “there has always been a prison at the Potala”. Then there is that profound but simple question at the Indian Border, asked of the fleeing Dalai Lama, “Are you Lord Buddha?” “They take away our silence”, remarks the young Dalai Lama, when Chinese military music begins to blare in Lhasa. The Dalai Lama is tuned into “visions” about the future and the “hissing” Oracle is consulted before any decision is taken.
Those who have seen Seven Years in Tibet (1997) will find this movie a bit shallow in content, even though Kundun covers a larger period of the Dalai Lama’s early years. Those who have not seen Seven Years of Tibet will find this Martin Scorsese directed slow, epic extravaganza breath-taking. This movie though, unlike the other, shows the Tibetan last rites of the dead body of young Dalai Lama’s father.
The background music composed by Philip Glass is immediately noticeable. It adds to the quality of the movie. The cinematography (Roger Deakin) is superb. The casting of the historical characters is not so “striking”. The screenplay is by Melissa Mathison, who wrote for E.T.: Extra-Terrestrial (1982).