I think it's safe to assume that the Hollywood disaster movie is "out" and the Tibetan monk thing is "in," as evidenced by the three movies about the Buddhist monks scheduled to be in theatres by the end of 1997. The first one was Christian Slater's valiant effort, "Julian Po" which came and went faster than you could say Dalai Lama. The second one is the currently very successful "Seven Years In Tibet" starring Brad "Blue Eyes" Pitt. And finally, the third monk movie is Martin Scorsese's epic "Kundun," due in December.
Is it the fact that Pitt stars in "Seven Years" or is it just an appealing story that interests the public? On my part, I saw it because of the hype and the rumors flying that it will be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. That really isn't a big surprise, since it's got the pace and emotion of "The English Patient." However, when I asked three people on the way out of the theatre - a teenage girl, an elderly gentleman, and a twentysomething female - what their motivation was for seeing it, they all responded "Brad Pitt." Don't get me wrong, he's a fine actor, one of the few today who can do a good Irish ("The Devil's Own") and German accent. I liked him very much in "Seven," "12 Monkeys" and "Thelma & Louise." He does an excellent job in this role, and I don't think anyone says "Hey, there's a movie about Tibetan monks out. Let's go see that."
A true story, this film depicts the seven years of a Nazi party member as teacher to the Dalai Lama of Tibet. (For those of you like me who didn't know what a Dalai Lama is, it was the child-spiritual leader who ruled Tibet before it was taken over by China.) However, it's not as though Pitt's character, Heinrich (or as friends call him, Harry) Harrer, sees the ad in the newspaper. He's out climbing the Himalayas for his "party" when he is arrested as a prisoner of war at the start of World War II. He and his Nazi buddy escape and flee to nearby Tibet where they plan to stay until the war ends, and then return to Austria.
Ah, but there's a conflict! The Dalai Lama has become interested in western society, and asks, or tells Harrer to be his teacher. The two develop an unbreakable friendship - beyond teacher and student. The young man who plays the Dalai Lama is superb, and he and Pitt play well off each other.
The longer Harrer stays in Tibet, the more he is attracted to its culture and life, which makes it hard for him to leave when he has to. Near the end, Harrer and the Dalai Lama are in a movie theatre where they are watching a newsreel of foreign lands. The Dalai Lama asks Harrer if he thinks Tibet will ever be seen on the big screen by many people and remembered. Thanks to Jean-Jauques Annault's directing, the fine script and the excellent acting, this movie seems to be something that will most likely be remembered for more than seven years
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.