The Buddha

and Tibet 

explored in film.

While I was writing the book report on the last page I also continued my exploration of Buddhist culture in film. This gave me a different perspective since the movies and tv shows I watched dealt with the political movements of the mid 20th Century. I am glad I looked into both mediums since if I stopped with the books I think I would have ended up with too limited of a perspective. It is likely that I will update this page at some point to give a thorough explanation to why there was so much Tibetan content coming out in the later part of the 20th Century. There must have been some major political movements happening at that time for there to be so much focus. The year after I wrote the article below Russia invaded Ukraine and there started to be talks about if China would invade Taiwan like they did with Tibet in these movies. Right now this article just focuses on being movie reviews. I came across articles that looked like they dove in why this topic was a major issue later in the century but my workload into putting two website together prevent me from doing a deep dive into filling in all that information. I hope you enjoy these movie reviews in the meantime.




from Director Bernardo Bertolucci

Growing up our family enjoyed several local movies shot around the Pacific Northwest where we live. I wanted to bring attention to the under the radar film 1993’s “Little Buddha.” I like its unique take on a dual storyline structure. The scenes that are shot in Seattle are done in an extreme blue cold and cloudy feel. They work as a visual clue to which storyline you are currently in where the warmer Sunny scenes almost always take place in the East. (If you’ve seen 2000’s “Traffic” it also uses this technique a lot.) “The Scarecrow Movie Guide” described it as “showing Seattle in possibly its best light ever…” It was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci whose “The Last Emperor” swept all nine Oscars in 1987. While I can understand why it did so well I find it odd that Little Buddha was nominated for a Razzie Award and not one Oscar. I don’t feel the quality between both films is so vast but are simply after different goals.


Showing Seattle in possibly its best light ever…

The Scarecrow Movie Guide on Little Buddha

To me it is not necessarily a flaw that it doesn’t pack everything there is to say about this topic into one picture. The two movie in one format which is suited for “IKIRU” wouldn’t be nearly as effective here with too much ground to cover. That story’s style excels in its frantic ruminating on the meaning of life when at its end approach. The relative brevity of both halves of that movie work in its favor. It might have been interesting to see Little Buddha split into two parts like with Soderbergh’s excellent “CHE.” When Bertolucci was making his previous film The Sheltering Sky he was approached to assemble a more epic historical treatment on the Buddha then what we got here.

I go back and forth on if this movie would have been better as being a sprawling telling that gives us a clearer idea why he is such an important figure. Upon rewatching the movie my takeaway this time is that it feels like a good length. As I listened to him talk about it I was reminded that this movie was targeted for children. There likely are not that many kids that will sit through something longer than two hours. Bertolucci parted ways with the other collaborator as he was too difficult to work with. The central story became smaller and more modest though it was still a big expensive production for what it is.


Politics had taken Bertolucci’s sense of idealism away from him.

When he made this movie he got it back...

Commentary from the Imprint version of Little Buddha. (2023)

“History stopped me from being idealistic but I found another way with Buddhism.” Buddha came around the same time as Laozi and Confucius in an incredible century. He denied the presence of of all the Gods in the Hindu religion as if to say that investing so much time into that took away from more important matters. The abolition of Gods and Deities by Buddha is the first thing that he did. In this way he was similar to Freud in that he put man and his actions in the central position. If a flood happens it is probably because we have cut down too many forests. No movement in the universe exists without a cause. If we search for it we can find the cause and effect of every life and ourselves.


I grew up believing that there were explanations like a God and Devil that explained what happened in a person’s life. What I now know of karma it is really you who is the author and screenwriter of your destiny. I needed to live my life in an active role. Belief in a God who acts on your behalf can lead to passivity. This doesn’t mean I would just sit around and expect change to happen. There is just no solid way to determine action caused outside of people. It leads to made up stories about what invisible beings did or prevented you from doing. I would consider this possibility but after listening to conflicting stories it quickly becomes apparent that these explanations contradict themselves. My actions do not have this difficulty in explaining.

Little Buddha was the first movie The Dalai Lama saw in a public theatre. According to Bertolucci he acted like a child “laughing, becoming very tense, taking my hand…and cracked my finger and said wonderful, wonderful and then he stood up and disappeared in the cloud of bodyguards.” Bertolucci said that he always thought of the happy ending as Hollywood nonsense but here it is a very natural thing.

Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet

Scorsese’s 1997 “Kundun” made me think more than I had before about the merits of societies that mix politics and religion. Kundun is about what happens when a dominant religious society goes against the prevailing political uprising from People’s Republic of China. “Seven Years in Tibet” also touches on this although it’s more of an aside to the basic storyline. Little Buddha might be a better place to start as it takes place both in modern day and ancient times. I am glad we watched historical Indian films like the 1982 Gandhi movie in World History class. I just think some of these other titles would have been important to learn about as well. They are good to know especially in one’s formative years.

All of those movies address unrest that world leaders went though. I now realize that the personal story at the heart of Little Buddha brings some of these issues down to a level that us everyday people can be more familiar with. We don’t know what it is like to forced into exile and need to protect the lives of a whole society but almost everyone has experienced financial difficulties. We see that sometimes when your life is turned upside down, disrupting school, forcing you to sell your home this can be what makes you put a little extra thought on what you previously labeled false beliefs (as the religion you practice likely told you they were not true.) While Dean’s life hits a slump and all he can do is “wait for lawyers to talk to lawyers” it is at this lowest point that gets him to say that “maybe this is the time I need to think about the rest of my life.”