Dedicated to holistic health, Insight Inside screens movies that are related to “spirituality, well-being, personal growth, and awareness. This week, Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha (1994) is the movie of choice.
Starring Bridget Fonda and Keanu Reeves, “Little Buddha is a fantastic story – as in it stretches the boundaries of believability – about the quest of a group of monks, led by Lama Norbu (Ruocheng Ying), to seek out the reincarnation of his great Buddhist teacher, Lama Dorje (Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen). Lama Norbu and his fellow monks believe they have found a possible candidate of Dorje s reincarnation within a boy named Jesse Conrad (Alex Wiesendanger) in Seattle, Washington.
In many ways “Little Buddha is a companion piece to Bernardo Bertolucci s “The Last Emperor. A beautiful travelogue and history lesson unfolds in the two parts of this film: a historical text of Siddhartha – Keanu Reeves, in what Washington Post film critic Desson Howe describes as “the wackiest bit of casting since George Burns played God – and Lama Norbu’s quest. The ancient, magical tales sweep away the blasé contemporary action.
Photographed gorgeously by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Little Buddha is graced with sweet-natured lamas, stunning sights from the Himalayas and Reeves as the Buddha. “Few will believe this without seeing for themselves, but Reeves is rather charming in the role, commented Howe.
While Jesse is fascinated with the monks and their way of life, his parents, Dean (Chris Isaak) and Lisa (Bridget Fonda), are wary, and that wariness turns into near-hostility when Norbu announces that he would like to take Jesse back with him to Bhutan to be put on trial with the other two potential candidates. Dean changes his mind, however, after the death of one of his close friends, which forces him to tackle the issues of the afterlife. His father decides to accompany Jesse to Bhutan.
It’s not difficult to understand why Insight Inside chose to screen this movie to its patrons. “At the core of Little Buddha lie questions of belief. Can you acknowledge reincarnation as a viable solution to what lies beyond death? Can you believe in the search for Cosmic Oneness as a central mystery of life? questions James Berardinelli on Reelviews.
The second tale – aside from the quest for Norbu’s reincarnation – is the fable of how Siddhartha became the great spiritual leader Buddha. Framed within the modern-day portions of Little Buddha, this segment is presented as a children s story told to Jesse.
Bertolucci has a talent for putting the human soul under the microscope. Psychoanalysis is as central to his films as it is to Woody Allen s, and Marlon Brando claimed that Bertolucci s sharing of psychoanalytical confidences with the star on the set of “Last Tango in Paris helped elicit the performance that many consider Brando s best.
Unfortunately, critics agree that he was unable to elicit the same level of performance from Fonda or Isaaks. The film has been described as having “no emotional depth and Fonda and Isaaks’ performances have been called “lobotomized.
That said, the film provides a fair amount of material to stimulate the intellect. The strength of “Little Buddha, critics believe, is the ideals that it presents, and the way it forces viewers to confront questions of spirituality and existence.
“Little Buddha will be shown at Insight Inside Thursday night, 7:30pm. To reserve or for more information, contact Tel: (010) 668 7203/(02) 2520 2945