In this infrequent but rambling interview, the Dalai Lama discusses his escape from Tibet.
The producers of this Dalai Lama documentary must be kicking themselves for timing its release so soon after that video tarnished his deity image as a champion of world peace and a stand-in for Tibet’s independence from China. Its selling point is an interview with the Dalai Lama, who speaks on film for the first time about his escape from Tibet in 1959, at the age of 23, and is narrated with dignified seriousness by Hugh Bonneville. To call the meeting an interview would be stretching it, though. The spiritual leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize is now available for “audiences with the Dalai Lama” in which the interviewer is expected to sit in rapt silence.
The 87-year-old then tells the tale of his escape from Tibet while grinning mischievously. He rambles a bit and discusses sneaking out of his palace at night while posing as a soldier to get past Chinese soldiers. It took him two weeks to cross the Himalayas on foot at night to get to Dharamshala, India, where he established a government-in-exile. The Dalai Lama’s uncle was an Indian officer ordered to transfer him to safety; he is chatting to British BBC journalist Rani Singh about this. At the conclusion, the two men meet up again.
In the face of Chinese aggression, the Dalai Lama preaches compassion. It seems like his younger brother’s pessimistic outlook on the future of the Tibetan government in exile is more grounded in reality. He asserts that “I think we’ve had it” if Tibet’s presence in India causes friction in relations between China and India. According to a human rights activist, simply holding a photo of the Dalai Lama on your phone is enough to land you in jail and make life miserable for Tibetans living under Chinese authority.
The rest of the movie is scrappy; for instance, a portion about Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer who captured the last image of the Dalai Lama in free Tibet, is superfluous. It’s a little soft-focus elsewhere. Mr. C from the Shamen, a.k.a. Richard West, offers his opinion on how to bring about world peace: “The power of art can carry the flame” and “make everyone think correctly.” You might think you can survive without these nuggets of knowledge.