Kundun (1997) Poster

(1997)

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10/10
incredibly beautiful movie
joelally5 March 2001
I rented Kundun to further my quest to see all the Scorsese movies I can. I never expected such an incredible movie. I didn't want this movie to end. It's really difficult to describe how I feel about this movie since I have only viewed it once and was completely blown away, it left me in complete awe.

Like most when I first started watching Scorsese I thought that he did brilliant gangster films and that was his thing, but I have recently discovered that this couldn't be further from the truth. Fist seeing The Last Temptation of Christ and now Kundun I wouldn't care if Scorsese ever made another gangster film. It is easy to see that he is an artistic genius, the acting in the film was great, but I could have watched it on mute and still have been amazed.

If, like I was, you are unfamiliar with the Buddhist religion and the Chinese takeover of Tibet this film has even more to offer. Scorsese's risk of using real Buddhists to do all of the acting payed off better than I ever expected it would, the fact that we are hearing the story through the people it affected adds another level to this movie.

I cannot believe that this film only has a rating of 7 on this site. If you are a fan of Scorsese and are not sure you are going to like this just give it a chance, it deserves at least one viewing, if you give it that I am sure you will be amazed as I was. Scorsese's vision's in this movie are unlike any of his films, not to mention a great score by Phillip Glass.
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unbearably spiritual movie
kys07913 December 2004
I live in South Korea, so I didn't think I would get some insights about buddhism from a Western movie. But this movie shocked me a lot. Very beautiful and meaningful visuals, quiet but spiritually forceful atmosphere every single moments are in the movie, I could hardly breath during playing. This movie is not just about one man, but about the pain of all mankind and the way to transcend the pain and sin of ours in a very buddhist direction. China in this movie got a bad part. Ironically they were also victims of imperialism but learned the exact way to extort, destroy the property and beliefs of others by the power of machines. It was just sad to watch. But as Kundun implied, those violence's are in the shadow of our minds which should be overcame by the power of spirit. For me, this movie tells that.
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8/10
Scorsese's most under-appreciated film?
davidals16 September 2003
I was rendered speechless by KUNDUN when I first saw it, and subsequent viewing have only confirmed my impression that this is one of Scorsese's finest films. Yeah - it's slow and elegant. So what.

I've long held an admittedly superficial interest in Buddhism, and also been a fan of Scorsese, liking most of his films quite a bit, so I went into this with some biases, but with every viewing this seems like a richer film. I also think that Scorsese was in some ways far more at home with this material than he was given credit for being. The cinematography and performances are excellent - the cast of mostly non-actors is surprisingly good, and much of KUNDUN is staggeringly beautiful to watch.

It has also struck me that this film isn't as much of a departure for Scorsese as it first may seem - this film works well as something of a companion to LAST TEMPTATION OF Christ in that both pictures examine great faiths through spiritual figures in a way that personalizes the divine. This simply literalizes undercurrents running through a number of Scorsese's other films, which often turn on themes of loyalty, conviction and ethics (like the self-assurance, against massive obstacles, shown by Alice Hyatt in ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE). All evidence a worldview where some form of redemption or transcendance is possible. In their own ways, several memorable Scorsese characters - Sam Rothstein (CASINO), Henry Hill (GOODFELLAS), Rupert Pupkin (KING OF COMEDY), Paul Hackett (AFTER HOURS) and Alice Hyatt attempt this, some in ways that are desperate, comically misguided or just plain wrong, but they're all human, driven by some redemptive impulse nonetheless.

The Catholicism of Scorsese's youth places great value on the importance of ritual, which is also true of Buddhism, which is depicted in a detailed and respectful fashion here, and the rhythm of KUNDUN - where the chronology of events isn't (or at least doesn't seem) forced, but are instead allowed to unfold in a more naturalistic and lifelike fashion also seems to mirror Buddhist ideas admirably.

This is a far more complex film than it first might appear to be - far from being a simple biopic, KUNDUN is much much more. Definitely one of Martin Scorsese's least appreciated films.
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10/10
Another religious masterpiece from Scorsese
SKG-223 February 1999
As "The Last Temptation of Christ" showed, Martin Scorsese is not a filmmaker interested in playing it safe when it comes to religion. Instead, he wants to get into the heart and soul of it. While that film was obviously closer to his heart, since he was raised Catholic, this one burns with the same conviction and passion. The difference is he and writer Melissa Mathison adjust themselves to the way of storytelling needed to tell the life of the Dalai Lama. Unlike say, "Little Buddha", though, where Bertolucci seemed to have no sense of distance from his subject, Scorsese does, so we are allowed to come to our own conclusions rather than having them shoved down our throats.

Visually and aurally, this is also a real treat, with the images being more powerful than anything Scorsese has done before. And while the music here is old territory for Philip Glass, he produces a stunning score which should have won the Oscar. The mostly non-professional cast(I did see a familiar face here and there, but I can't remember them) also does good work.
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10/10
"Dazzling to the eye and ear" A Masterpiece
victorsargeant19 June 2005
I have reviewed this film several times, and find new details I missed. How did they film this, and using non-professional actors, as well? Mysterious, magical, educational, and dazzling to the eye and ear. Seems much careful planning went into this production, a labor of Love. The Dali Lama, must be grateful his story, can now reach the world and his personal mission, may be recognized and possible fulfilled in his lifetime?

Like the "Last Emperor" and "Little Buddha" this "slice of the metaphysical river", is breathtaking in its visual beauty. A story that grabs your heart and soul, and you find yourself, thinking about it weeks later.

Now I have a "Free Tibet" sticker on my Pathfinder, out of reverence for this tiny country, raped by the political powers in control of China.

Bravo to the cast, and film crews.
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10/10
An opera
OttoVonB17 July 2006
Tibet. The young boy who shall become the 14th Dailai Lama is discovered and trained. At an early age he has to deal with his country's invasion by the Chinese and is ultimately forced into exile.

Those expecting a Martin Scorsese film will be disappointed. This is not his typical kind of story and - fittingly - neither does it bear his typical direction. Using a cast of non-actors for the most part and opting for a more artful photographic style (kudos to DP Roger Deakins, veteran Coen collaborator, for his mesmerizing work here), Scorsese gives a truly spiritual film revolving around one of History's great tragedies. It is a feast of sights and sounds that succeeds in making Tibet alluring and makes for even more of a heartbreak for the viewer when this country is violated and destroyed. Perhaps as important as any other collaboration - if not more so - is the score by Philip Glass providing unusual but haunting melodies and depth.

Kundun is regarded by many as a misstep. It does wander a long way from the gangster territory and the familiar NYC surroundings Scorsese usually plays with. In truth, that such a comfortable veteran director might take such an artistic and financial risk is both surprising and inspiring. This will never gain the popularity of "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas", because it speaks of a world that disappeared. Nevertheless, it might just be, with "Last Temptation of Christ", Scorsese's deepest and most important film.
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9/10
Quite simply a great achievement
Rovin11 June 2000
I was very pleased to discover that this film wasnt the Scorcese dud some of the user comments and critics had suggested it to be. While I am no expert on Buddhism, I know enough about it to see how brilliantly Martin Scorcese and Melissa Mathison weaved the core philosophy into this tale of the Dalai Lama's formative years. They did it without succumbing to ostentation, sentimentality, or populist good vs evil film dramatics. And yet it showed us how human the child was--laughing as the monks meditated while a rat drank the ritual offerings; being frightened in the dark monastery; taking on the very great responsibility of leading a truly wise, noble and compassionate religion while being confronted by the threats of the modern world. I appreciated how they didnt portray the Chinese as simple villians--by including the scene where he dreams the army personnel are explaining to him why they embrace Mao's communism. And they also presented enough of the Buddhist ritual and way of life to show us how alien it is to western religions(the scene where they cut up the body for the vultures comes to mind), though they dont gloss it over by excluding comments about the Lama's isolation and loss of childhood or the corruption surrounding his first Regent. It was also quite moving to observe the devotion of his monks and people.

Scorcese really demonstrates here that he is a true film artist and master storyteller. I wholeheartedly concur with the commentator that compared this film to the Last Emperor--despite similar story frames and lengths, this motion picture doesnt drag at all. If this had been say, Steven Spielberg's project you would have expected to see some manipulative melodramatics and insincerity. And how can one not be impressed by the performances he got out of mostly non actors! That alone was amazing. The film maintained its pace from the early years to the Lama as an adult. From what little of the man I have seen on tv, his humor, and wisdom was conveyed remarkably well by Mathison's script and the actors chosen for the role.

Finally, his comment to the Indian guard near the end after being asked if he was the Lord Buddha--encapsulates the wisdom and the humility of its spiritual leader perfectly.
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9/10
You can not liberate me, only I can liberate myself...
WriterDave6 December 2006
"Kundun" is Martin Scorsese's most underrated film. It's something quite fantastic to watch such an amazing film about the early years of the Dalai Lama and the plight of Tibetan Buddhists knowing that it comes from a man who has long wrestled with his own religious ghosts (witness the still hotly debated conundrum that is his "Last Temptation of Christ"). With probably only "The Age of Innocence" to compare to in Scorsese's now hallowed canon, "Kundun" is a breathtaking work of art--visually sumptuous (with beautiful work from cinematographer Roger Deakins), hauntingly transcendental, and deeply symbolic.

As an outsider looking in, Scorsese manages to create an intimate level of detail that someone who lives and breathes Buddhism might have overlooked. Many rituals and practices are presented exactly as they are with no attempts to explain their purpose or translate their meaning to Western culture. This allows them to keep their rich symbolism, which translates perfectly to Scorsese's visual palette. From the rich colors of meditative sand art to the bright red blood spilled during China's unlawful occupation of Tibet, everything takes on a deeper meaning that leaves much to the imagination and higher mind.

Wisely, Scorsese follows the same template of Richard Attenborough's equally resonating Oscar winning epic "Ghandi" by adapting a straight forward approach to his presentation of the Dalai Lama's most tumultuous years. Except for a few dreamlike vision sequences, he stays mostly out of the man's head, and instead shows his power through his actions and dedication to his people and the practice of non-violence. "Kundun" is as near perfect a biopic as one can make.
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10/10
Enlightening
abundanz2 March 2006
I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to Martin Scorsese for making this extraordinary film. Especially in light of it's controversial content. Here is a story that must be told and is so remarkably entertaining while being so deeply informative that I hesitate to make any comments at all. Why why why has this director NOT received the recognition he so richly deserves for his work, especially with this epic that out "performs" any epic extant, including the likes of "Cleopatra" "The Godfather" and so on. Are awards for honest brilliant work politically motivated? This film may be the watermark for all ambitious film makers in the future. Keep it real.
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10/10
True Art
liskenland7 April 2008
Having in mind the actual political situation (we write the year 2008) this movie is the right one to watch. I saw it first time(s) some years ago and wept like a child (curiously every time I weep on another scene). Now again it crashed into my life in the right moment for show me who we really are - people. This is the best movie of Martin Scorsese and if I ever would have the pleasure to meet him personally I would say: "Thank you for making 'Kundun'."

However - when I saw the rating (7 of 10) it achieved here at IMDb, I must admit, I was a bit shocked. Are there so few people out there, that are able to appreciate a piece like that? Are there so few people who are able to watch a movie with their heart, not only with the head?

Maybe the essence of that film simply goes deeper than most of our members of mankind are able (or willing) to follow. This is the tragedy of Tibet - without any unnecessary outrage or false intellectualism. 'Kundun' goes a peaceful way that leads not to victory, but to the hearts of men. I'm glad Scorsese sacrificed popularity for art's sake in this case. So the ones, that are ready for the journey may have a path.

Outstanding.
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8/10
A lovely, beautiful film
alfiefamily22 October 2004
"Kundun" I think is one of Martin Scorsese's less appreciated films. Probably because it is such a departure from most of his other pictures. Like "The Age of Innocence", it is a quieter more reflective film that encourages and challenges the audience to dig deeper into the film than just the visuals.

"Kundun" is a very spiritual film without being religious. This may not make sense to most people, but after viewing the film, even if like me, you are not a very religious person, you cannot help but be moved by the selflessness and love that these characters experience.

Cinematic ally, it is also one of Scorsese's most beautiful films as well.

8 out of 10
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8/10
A Film from the Heart
Barky4418 November 2006
You can tell that "Kundun" was a Martin Scorsese pet project, a story he really wanted to bring to the big screen. A film about a holy man and peaceful resistance is not your standard commercial fare, but this film visually stunning and emotionally poignant. Throw in the intriguing Philip Glass score and you have quick a sensory experience.

Scorsese took a brilliant approach to this film in many ways:

-- Casting unknown actors: the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people are unpretentious themselves, casting any names in the part would not only be ethnically sacrilegious, but would have missed the point. -- When they couldn't film in Tibet, they filmed in Morocco. Yet they picked terrific locations that definitely suggest the highest plateau in the world. -- Their use of color and movement is stunning. The cinematography is beautiful, the awards this film received for this are well deserved.

The only issue I had with the film were the dreamlike episodes towards the end. The film would have been more powerful if they showed some of Mao's tyranny, instead of suggesting it through dream sequences (see "The Killing Fields" for how this can be done).

Otherwise, this is a cerebral piece, not an action piece. If you can get by this, and watch it during the daytime so you don't fall asleep during the boring bits, it's a very good film.

8 out of 10
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9/10
The amazing story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama.
Lady_Targaryen10 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
''Kundun'' is an amazing movie, who tells us the story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, also known as Tenzin Gyatso and still alive in the present days. He was born in a peasant family in 1935, in a small village called Taktser in north eastern Tibet, and was recognised at the age of two as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama by other Lamas and Riponches. Some informations about this movie are changed,but nothing too serious:little facts like the year he was born or the age e was enthroned as Tibet's Head of State.

I also find this movie very similar to ''Seven Years in Tibet'' in small points, like showing the Dalai Lama trying to ride a car, he looking people and places with his telescope, seeing maps and even watching the western movies he was so fascinated for. (Saddly Heinrich didn't come to explain to him the things :P )

ps:I really hope that the Dalai Lama can come back to Tibet someday. It's so annoying the Chinese occupation :/ is even worst when you watch movies, because what you read about stay memorized and marked in your memory.
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10/10
How does a Peaceful Culture React to Genocide?
filmnathan3 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The story is of how His Holiness Dalai Lama was found as a child until teenage years as he he faces exile escaping Mao's invading People's Liberation Army. The pace may be slow but the views stunning and the moral dilemma compelling. Scorsese poses the question: faced with violence, how does a leader fight for survival with Buddhist compassion? With the growing violence we see on the international headlines, this film is highly relevant both spiritually and ethically for all countries and peoples.

Seen on a large screen, with a brush of the sands and my tears, this film changed my life. I support many first nations that have suffered killings and wish we can redress the wrongs. Seven Years in Tibet was also good but this movie changed my life and made me study the different branches of Buddhism and found much peace in meditation. Not bad for a few hours by an under-rated master, Scorsese.
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10/10
Wonderful, beautiful, inspriational, and unique.
homeyard1 October 2003
As a film fan & a Scorsese fan I would have sought this movie out. However as a student of the Dalai Lama's writings and a Buddhist I found the movie to be inspirational and profound. The cinema graphical impact is stunning but it also shows the wondrous beauty of Tibet and brings home the suffering of the Tibetan people. The sound track adds eminently to my collection of inspirational Asian music reflects the beauty of the chants that so typify the Tibetan Buddhist experience.

As a historian I found the film a useful tool to introduce students and others to the Tibetan perspective on the events of the 1940's & 1950's without moving away from the essential message of Buddhism and the Dharma as interpreted by his Holiness.

A jewel in my Film library and one watched many times.
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Postcards of Dharma
chaos-rampant1 December 2012
I think I am well versed in Buddhism to say that, contrary to the majority opinion, this is a superficial smattering of a wonderful practice. I don't know whose fault it is, certainly Scorsese's though he is an outsider so that is sort of to be expected. I suspect the Dalai Lama's circle were fine with a superficially romantic portrayal, so long as it generates awareness for their just cause.

Why do I say this?

The main narrative device that gives this any sort of shape (otherwise it is one long picture-pretty rambling), is the DL meditating in exile, possibly at that balcony at the Indian border, possibly at a much later time. This would be in line with the recurring motifs of prescient visions and the spyglass (looking from a distance) which is first introduced right after the screening of a silent film (the association is with memory, illusions and time gone - all things to purify the mind from in meditation).

This would somewhat excuse the fragmentary nature of the narrative and quaint focus of it on young boy versus evil empire of millions, since it was all experienced from his end. Somewhat. It is still absolutely tepid as a historic film if we switch to the 'objective' pov. Now, this last segment of the crossing to India is accompanied by the one powerful visual meditation in the film, it is not mentioned but what you see is the Kalachakra initiation with the Great Sand Mandala being constructed and brushed away, a powerful and sacred occasion.

Get it? This is it, this one moment. The DL is heartbroken and his courage waning, and lost in meditation, he finds peace in reminding himself of the transience of all things, which is what the ritual represents and a core Buddhist precept, the cosmos being washed away back into river-sand. The entire rest of the film is a pageant; oracles hiss, rituals go on, dances, ornate ceremonies, hushed whispers of banality.

Scorsese mistakes here the theater of appearances (the religion) for the essence. He films the ritual as the thing-in-itself, as spectacle, instead of as the space that allows you to cultivate a compassionate mind. The postcard instead of the real spiritual landscape.

How rich this would be if, for instance, we had contrasts between flows of remembered ordinary life and abstractions in three- and twodimensional space in the dances and mandala, and all of that (all the costumes, the ceremonies, the symbols and human suffering) understood as different sides of one image -empty- brushed away as the mind heals itself. I am in awe of the possibilities!

No dice. Scorsese films operatic platitudes.

Skip this if you want to know Buddhism. Go straight for Why Did Bodhidharma Left for the East? or even Herzog's Buddhist doc, which he also filmed around the Kalachakra. Blowup, if you want deep, incidentally Buddhist essaying on the roots of suffering.
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8/10
An excellent high quality movie
mightyeye27 November 2005
This movie is like a breath of fresh air, for once a topic well chosen. Very nicely produced, directed and and very well acted. a very moving tale that hinges not only on the 14th Dalai Lama but of the struggle for Tibetan freedom from Chinese communist imperialist rule. This movie should be more widely shown. An interesting portrayal of the cruel,bullying, arrogant imperialist Chairman Mao enjoying the good life whilst his citizens suffered. The film portrays the issues successfully and is memorable.

We should not forget Tibet and the Tibetan peoples' desire for a restoration of independence and freedom. Marvellous just marvellous.
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9/10
Hard Times
qdogballer24 November 2004
This movie Kundun got me through some hard times,watching this movie hours after finding my girlfriend with her new man and being the last to know the relationship was over,I completely broke down almost on every chapter of the movie I felt I was from Tibet and I had been betrayed by the Chinese,but it was much more than that.Kundun with it's realty and emotion mixed with Philip Glass soundtrack makes this a movie that you become attached to the characters and sadden by their misfortune.Every time I watch this film I feel part Buddhist and this is one of my top 5 movies ,but truly I can't express how much this movie saved and uplifted me during my struggle. Also before all that happened to me I had seen the movie years before but It's gained a few more notches on my rating.
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10/10
Our way is way of peace, but do we have time to walk it ?
uniluoma21 February 2005
I love this movie. I have seen it three times and I will watch it again. Music is wonderful, it creates strange, but nice background for moving picture. Scenes contains great pictures of Tibet. And you go in the temples where you normally cannot go in.

( I am not sure of that, but I have understood so. ) One thing I really like in this movie is the silence. There is no needless and annoying noise, as in many Hollywood films. (I mean that in many Hollywood films ... Actors are over acting and everything is so big and great..lot of noise..needless..annoying)

Plot is great too . It is moving in every second towards something, like a destiny. This is story of DalaiLama. From he's childhood to manhood. And there is many difficult decisions to make when everyone doesn't want to walk the way of peace.
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Emotional Transportation
P_B_W_Brian14 July 2003
Though I see a lot of films (usually 100+ in theaters per year), I can't say that I'm much of a student of films. I go to be entertained and/or moved. And Kundun moved me in a way I don't think has ever happened before.

I saw the film in the multiplex in Phipps Plaza, probably Atlanta's most upscale shopping mall. At the end of the film, when I walked out the theater exit into the mall, I was emotionally stunned. Scorsese had hypnotized me into the world of Bhuddist simplicity and wonder. Seeing the activity and commercialism (which I normally love) of the mall was a shock.

Peter Weir once said: "The true test of it is when you come out of a picture and you can't remember whether it was day or night when you came in." I think that barely remembering what country I was in shows that for me, this film passes that "true test".
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10/10
see it for yourself, and remain open to the possibilities
craighubleyca1 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Personally I don't understand some of the comments here. The scene where (spoiler!) the Dalai Lama absorbs the horrific news that some Chinese soldiers made children kill their own parents, though it lasts, only seconds. When I say absorbs, I mean it: the news goes through him like a knife in the guts, and through any attentive viewer's guts also. I fail to see how anyone can say "it never comes close to the emotional heights", there or in the "sky funeral" where his father is fed to the vultures. To call this "empty symbolism, and some wooden acting" is just to abhor Buddhist teaching itself, which emphasize calm and ritual to remain calm (only). "How could something so interesting at the same time create such ennui?" Easy. Because it's putting you in that state.

I agree that "like "Baraka" and "Koyaanisqatsi", the devices of the film maker are important as the script" and that the film is "not attempting to glorify the life of an extraordinary man but instead presents a balanced look at a complex country and a complex religion. Instead of making the Dalai Lhama out to be a saint he presents him as the humble but very human man he is, caught up in the struggle for his country and his religious freedom from the Chinese in the only way that his principles and religion will allow." and that "this movie is not just about one man, but about the pain of all mankind and the way to transcend the pain and sin of ours in a very buddhist direction." To say that "at its heart it is also a cold, detached and distanced view" may be a compliment. The very hot story requires a very cool treatment.

Is it "passionless"? I doubt it. It does "give the audience a cultural experience- to try to convey a religious state of mind through the use of the camera and the sound track. To get us in to the Buddhist mental state it must sacrifice in the script and drama departments" if by those one means action and conflict. The main conflict is the political one, and it is played out in stages, especially the sequence of generals starting off with reasonable explanations of why the Communists had to rise, ending up with blank repeated orders - each lower in rank. Yes it had the "best cinematography and best music", Phillip Glass outdid himself and he clearly understood the passion that lives within Buddhism. If you feel this film is passionless, close your eyes a while. Or get the soundtrack itself and play it in the dark. Really.

I agree that "Kundun" is "up there with the screen's greatest biographies (Lawrence of Arabia, Ghandi, Out of Africa)" but since it is about a great Buddhist it would do a disservice not to "separate itself from the emotion, from the humanity". If it "ends up failing miserably to convey the horror experienced by the Tibetan people", fine. If someone was "as emotionally involved in this film as I would have been in a PBS documentary on insects", then, consider, having compassion for insects, as the boy who will become the Dalai Lama demonstrates in one of the most compelling early scenes. "Kundun, in my opinion, needs to be viewed as a cinematic (audio-visual) exploration of the Tibetan spirituality and the cycles of existence - birth, death, reincarnation".

It is no contradiction to see it as "a huge, beautifully and intricately decorated gift box which, when I opened it, proved to be empty. "But your Box is the gift-- isn't it beautiful?" Well sure it is... but you could have put SOMETHING inside it." Why? Religion is itself the box.

I agree that "in twenty years time Kundun will be recognised as one of the top ten films ever produced in motion picture history". I empathize with the fellow "watching this movie hours after finding my girlfriend with her new man and being the last to know the relationship was over,I completely broke down almost on every chapter" - ah, exactly the point. I saw it with a woman I had asked to marry me several times (she said no), her son who was about ten, and a good friend of ours who had been in jail in India and meditated with the Dalai Lama when he visited. I think it was the last significant thing I did with these three people. I can no longer separate my love for them from my love for this film. I think I learned its lesson. Attachment is not the point of living well.

The beautifully wrapped box will always be empty - and that is wonderful.
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9/10
Amazing film!
Greenie12322 October 2005
This has to be one of the best movies I have ever seen. I haven't seen any other Scorsese films except "The Aviator", but that can't hold a candle to this one.

The two points that really make Kundun shine are the drop-dead gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins, which really adds a whole dimension to the film, but that's peanuts compared to the brilliant score by Philip Glass. If anyone other than Glass had done the score to the film, it wouldn't be half the film it is in my opinion. Certainly, this is one of Glass's stronger scores, right up there with Koyaanisqatsi. The dramatic work the movie has done to build up to a climax are realized with the ending, which is amazingly poignant and really serves for a wonderful sense of closure (or not). (I've been saying a lot about how "wonderful" and "brilliant" the film is, haven't I?)

And yes, something must be said about the acting. There have been complaints that the acting is stiff and unmemorable and that's true for a few cast members, but Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong as the adult Dali Lama shines.

So, for my final score, I'll make it a ten, but knock one point off for some of the stiff acting, for a grand total of nine points. This is a film that truly deserves it.
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2/10
Good-looking and shallow
Karl Self11 February 2011
Martin Scorsese recounts the official version of the Dalai Lama's biography from his birth until the onset of his exile in India in 1959. In stunning images. That's it. And that's not enough. None of Marty's extraordinary narrative style is apparent here (although the movie is a showcase for cameraman Roger Deakins, who has since become the cinematographer of choice for the Coen brothers). Since the Dalai Lama is a real, and really ambivalent, political as well as religious figure, offering up a glossy 2-hours commercial on him simply isn't enough. The most egregious example of the movie's intentional superficiality is when the deposed Tibetan regent Reting Rinpoche perishes in the dungeons of the Potala palace and the Dalai Lama reacts to this by ... erm, performing a noble blessing gesture and then doing feck all. Was he in on it himself, or at least aware that there was a conspiracy, which he chose to ignore? But for what reasons? This movie won't tell you. It just wallows on in beautiful images.
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The New Scorsese
tieman647 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Kundun" is one of Scorsese's finest pictures. It won't be appreciated until well after he's dead, but that's natural when you're dealing with artists of his calibre.

With "Kundun" Scorsese transcends his documentary approach to film and instead relies purely on ethereal imagery and sound. Liquid images, sparse dialogue and a narrative structure (memory and recollections) that justifies it, "Kundun" is the perfect marriage of cinematic form and content.

Scorsese's previous experiment along these lines was "The Age of Innocence". That film was excellent, but its images were formal and based around rituals and rigid order. It was about an uptight society populated by constrained characters.

"Kundun's" camera, in contrast, is free. It's about the ethereal qualities of cinema. Fleeting moments and partial recollections, memories of sound and touch stitched together and framed as a child's waking dream. The film reaches its apotheosis during a 9 minute sequence toward the end where the Lama travels to India by horse. It's the most affecting ten minutes in Scorsese's filmography.

Scorsese has never been a visual storyteller. He uses violence, kinetic edits and explosive actors as a crutch. This is not a criticism, it's just his natural style. But what's great about "Kundun" is that allows us to watch Scorsese step out of his comfort zone.

Ever since his early student films, Scorsese has been obsessed with recreating and repackaging reality as film. His stories were filmed documentaries, his Italian camera tied firmly to his characters (Travis, Jesus, Lamotta etc), the story fleshed out by focusing on the defining moments of the person's life. To drive the story forward, he uses the threat of violence. To end the story altogether, he calls down scenes of carnage. As his style of storytelling is such that he can follow his characters around indefinitely, his tales require some form of external destruction to bring the story to an abrupt close.

Of course "Kundun" again plays to Scorsese's documentary sensibilities. It is a story about the Dalai Lama. A filmed recreation of his life. But in every aspect, "Kundun" transcends the old Scorsese. Instead of method actors desperately pretending to be real (Dinero), we have real human beings who are not trained as actors. Instead of rock-and-roll songs driving the story forward, we have ethereal, ever-present music acting as a tapestry upon which the images are played. And instead of violence propelling the story, we have a hero morally opposed to violence.

Scorsese's film also acts as a meditation on his earlier pictures. While "Taxi Driver", "Goodfellas" and "Casino" portray worlds completely devoid of spiritual values, "Kundun" implores us to meditate on such values. In Travis Bickle's explosions of sociopathic rage and Henry Hill's drug-induced paranoia, we witness the mirror perversions of the Dalai Lama's spiritual transcendence.

"Kundun" is Scorsese taking his particular brand of film-making to it's logical conclusion. Any other attempt to make a "documentary film" after "Kundun" is a wasted effort and is doomed to failure. Look at his latest mess, "The Aviator", a film in which he is caught between being the Old Scorsese and the New Scorsese. This artistic confusion just doesn't work.

It took Scorsese two conscious attempts to become a purely visual storyteller. With "Gangs of New York" he started thinking in terms of cinematic space. If the "Kundun" experiment was about music and images, the Gangs experiment was about cinema as a location. A 3d environment in which the "space" is the "central character".

Interestingly, "Kundun" also features several sequences ripped from Godfrey Reggio's influential documentary, "Koyaanisqatsi". Reggio collaborator Phillip Glass provides the music for "Kundun", and several of the film's audio-visual set pieces (Sand Mandala/Dreams etc) owe a lot to Reggio's work.

"Kundun's" score was also quite novel for Scorsese. It's no coincidence that he chose Philip Glass to compose the film's music. After Scorsese saw Paul Schrader's "Mishima" he noted that "One day I would love to be able to make a film that would cry out for a score by Philip Glass."

In 1980, Glass wrote a famous three-act opera called Satyagraha (meaning passive, non-violent resistance). It was about the period Ghandi spent in South Africa (1893-1914). Each act of his opera took a historical figure as a sort of spiritual guardian (Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, and Martin Luther King Jr) who represented the past, present and future of non violent resistance.

Just like "Kundun", Glass's opera was about both historical time and politics, and showed it's audience how to be truly civilised in a gratuitously hostile, indifferent world. How to be holy in an unholy world.

10/10 - Critics seemed to hate "Kundun" because they believed it to be too passive. American cinema is largely a cinema of action. A film like "Kundun", where inaction is action, rubbed them the wrong way. But make no mistake, "Kundun" is great cinema. Watch "Taxi Driver" and "Kundun" back to back to appreciate both Old and New Scorsese perfected. Watch "Departed", "Bringing out the Dead" and "Aviator" to see him regress.

Worth multiple viewings.
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