"He dared to be born right on the border with China."
Regardless of whether you are a Buddhist or not, the story of Tenzin Gyatso is an interesting one that certainly provides drama that can draw you in. Born as the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, Gyatso grew up as the leader of Tibet. China, however, had other plans and eventually took Tibet, leaving the Dalai Lama no choice but to flee China in 1959. Still hoping to return one day, the Dalai Lama’s life story was one of interest to screenwriter Melissa Mathison who asked him if she could write about him. This eventually led to the biopic Kundun. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we wrap up our Melissa Mathison series with Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film Kundun.
We talk about why it works for Andy but why it doesn’t work for Pete, and what could perhaps lead to that discrepancy. We chat about Mathison and how this fits in the films she wrote and what we’ve discussed in this series thus far, and how well it works in telling the story of a child in large, otherworldly situations. We talk about Scorsese and all the brilliant cinematic techniques he brings to the film, paired with his cinematographer Roger Deakins, production & costume designer Dante Ferretti, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and composer Philip Glass. We discuss the quality of performances from the Tibetan non-actors Scorsese cast in the film, yet how the story balancing across four youthful performances as the Dalai Lama hampers the film from becoming connectible for Pete. And we look at the incredibly difficult time this film has had with its release, primarily because China banned people involved from entering the country and nearly cut off all ties with Disney for distribution within its borders.
It’s a fascinating film that left us divided but which still is well worth watching and discussing, whether you’re a Buddhist, a Scorsese fan, a Mathison fan, a fan of biopics or a fan of interesting films in general. It’s tricky to find because of the issues Disney had with China, but it’s worth seeking out (likely at your local public library). So check it out then tune in! The Next Reel: when the movie ends, our conversation begins.
- Watch this film: Check your local library
- Script Transcript
- Original theatrical trailer
- Original poster artwork