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Wheel of Time (2003)

Not Rated | | Documentary | 30 October 2003 (Germany)
Wheel of Time is Werner Herzog's photographed look at the largest Buddhist ritual in Bodh Gaya, India.


Werner Herzog


Werner Herzog

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Credited cast:
The Dalai Lama ... Himself
Lama Lhundup Woeser Lama Lhundup Woeser ... Himself
Takna Jigme Sangpo Takna Jigme Sangpo ... Himself
Matthieu Ricard Matthieu Ricard ... Himself
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Madhureeta Anand Madhureeta Anand ... Himself
Tenzin Dhargye Tenzin Dhargye ... Himself
Ven. Geshe Ven. Geshe ... Himself
Werner Herzog ... Himself (voice)
Manfred Klell Manfred Klell ... Himself
Chungdak D. Koren Chungdak D. Koren ... Himself
Thupten Tsering Mukhimsar Thupten Tsering Mukhimsar ... Himself


Wheel of Time is Werner Herzog's photographed look at the largest Buddhist ritual in Bodh Gaya, India.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

buddhist | See All (1) »




Not Rated | See all certifications »



Germany | Austria | Italy


German | English | Tibetan

Release Date:

30 October 2003 (Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

Ajan pyörä See more »

Filming Locations:

Tibet, China See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The Dalai Lama: All religions carry same message. Message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment, self-discipline. I think we need these qualities, irrespective of whether we are believer or non-believer, because these are the source of a happy life.
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User Reviews

13 May 2011 | by chaos-rampantSee all my reviews

In his film My Son, My Son, his protagonist taunts a student meditating on a rock facing a river, telling him to open his eyes, that reality is out there. I was cautious of this, Herzog's encounter not with a simple madness but with an ancient, complex, beautiful point of view, but cautiously optimistic, curious.

We know that Herzog seeks truths in the extremities of life, in the madness that inhabits them. He often guides these subjects to be what he wants them to be, which is his personal reflection that we may find a more eloquent, resilient truth in what deviates rather than what abides, but his visual meditations are tried and true. True enough that Malick, a trobadour himself, has taken from them.

But is he merely a tourist in this, the Kalachakra initiation, a Westerner with a camera strapped around his neck approaching sacred ground with idle curiosity, or does he come in earnest, perhaps to learn?

He shows us the pilgrims travelling the thousands of miles to Bodh Gaya on foot, stopping every couple of steps on this journey that takes as much as three years for one of them, to prostrate themselves on the ground. He says nothing of this but there's no doubt in my mind on why he handpicks them among the crowds. They have a good story of spiritual struggle to tell, perhaps itself a form of holy madness. Elsewhere his camera prowls through a crowd of monks, in the end selectively settling upon the most mysterious face he could find.

There's one moment however in his meeting with the H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama that brilliantly reveals the chasm between these two worlds. Asked about it, the Dalai Lama explains to him what he believes to be the center of the universe, inside of each one of us, doing this with the goodhearted laugh that characterizes him. Mistaking this radiance of equanimity and happiness for an attempt at humour, Herzog quips back that he shouldn't tell his wife about this. The moment follows an awkward pause of silence and a dumbfounded look by the DL.

The above incident, which may reflect badly on him from a formal point but still reflects something, he chose to keep on the film as both a way of undercutting a solemnity he perhaps sees as banal and of showing how far the two cultures are. Herzog may be a stranger here but he's still a talented filmmaker.

And more. The uproar of the pilgrims, how they prepare food and tea for the monks, how they crowd for a good view of the Dalai Lama, he contrasts with the booming silence inside the sanctum, punctured repetitively by the sounds of monks at work on the great sand mandala, the representation of the cosmos.

This is one of the beautiful contrasts of the film. How the superstition of the peasants, who clamor for a crumble of a sacred dumpling thought to be a blessing, with the complex philosophical discussions on concepts of emptiness held openly among the monks elsewhere.

What do the simple folks who came down for this from Nepal understand of shunyata? What do we, in turn, understand of the spiritual importance of performing 100,000 asanas, sun salutations? And what does the Dalai Lama understand of the superstitions he practices in the ceremony, of dropping sticks to see where they may land as pointing into a direction?

Nevertheless, even a man of his own ideas like Herzog leaves this with newfound wisdom, with the potential to enrich us in turn. We get three unforgettable images in the end, all meditatios I will keep inside of me.

How the great sand mandala upon which the Tibetan monks worked tirelessly day and night is eventually destroyed, a palpable reminder of how all things come to pass. The different colored sands brushed aside blend together into abstract shape without pattern or meaning now, to be poured then into the river where after a time they will perhaps wash out in some distant shore.

In Graz, Austria, a security man stands guard in an almost empty hall, guarding nothing from nothing. The self, a barrier to our awareness.

And back again in Bodh Gaya, the ceremony now over, we see the hundreds of thousands of empty pillows left over by the pilgrims lining the floor. In the middle of this emptiness kneels alone one last monk, lost in meditation.

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