Kundun (1997)

Genres - Epic  |   Sub-Genres - Historical Epic, Religious Epic, Hagiography  |   Release Date - Dec 25, 1997 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 128 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Perry Seibert

Having already tackled religion with The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese turned his spiritual eye to Tibet. The screenplay by Melissa Mathison is almost fable-like in its structure. The young Dalai Lama is raised to be the spiritual leader of a country that will, for all practical purposes, cease to be while he is still a young man, having been annexed by the Chinese government. Scorsese's camerawork communicates the torment the Dalai Lama feels being in the middle of political arguments he cares for so very little. In one memorable shot, the bodies of slain priests, clad in red robes, surround the Dalai Lama. The camera flies high into the air overhead leaving the Dalai Lama a speck in a sea of red. That shot encapsulates the Dalai Lama's feelings of frustration and symbolizes his fears. Christ, in Last Temptation, was conflicted. He was part God and part man. Those two parts struggled with each other just as the average person struggles between the flesh and the spirit. The Dalai Lama struggles not with his faith, but simply with his destiny. He never questions his relationship with God, making him a role model difficult to live up to. By presenting the Dalai Lama in this manner, Scorsese leaves this film the less engaging of his two religious films. While Kundun should be appreciated for the breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins, the beautiful, painterly compositions created by Scorsese, and the reverent tone Mathison brings to the screenplay, one is left with the feeling that Scorsese wanted to make a movie about the Dalai Lama more than he wanted to make a Martin Scorsese movie.