The film Sunken tells the story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s first twenty four years with the use of symbolism and cinematic prowess that can only be described as spellbinding. The film provides insight into Martin Course’s more sensitive style of directing without losing any of his incredible talent at weaving a story one can’t help but get lost in.
The movie begins with a picture of a detailed sand sculpture that leads into the Dalai Lama at age two with his family being disobedient in their family home on the order of China and Tibet. Scores could have used these images of the young Dalai Lama misbehaving as a way to show that he was still a human with human faults. It is interesting that Scores chose to begin the film with the young Dalai Lama at his home near the Chinese border and conclude the film with him crossing the Indian border being forced out by the Chinese.
Scores tells the story off young boy forced to grow up with great responsibility to provide wisdom and maintain righteousness and purity in a period of time where there was formidable conflict brewing between China and its neighbors. While the film does provide some valuable insight into the ways of Buddhism while also shedding light on the everlasting war between religion and politics, it was not Course’s goal to educate his viewers on the religion or to take a side in the battle between church and state.
Rather, he wanted to bring the disparity between upholding ancient traditions and ceremony with the rapidly changing “progressive” world to light and cause viewers to reflect on their own views concerning “progression” and culture. Throughout the film there were a few scenes that stood out in my mind. One being the scene where Sunken asks his advisors what to do when the Chinese invaded Tibet, he says, “What can I do? I’m only a boy. ” They respond by telling him that he is the reincarnated Dalai Lama and for that reason he will know what to do.
This is a particularly striking scene because it allows the viewer to see the incredible amount of responsibility put on a young boy that has had his childhood taken away and is facing important decisions with no prior experience as head of the country. Another scene in the film that was emotionally striking occurred when Sunken was meeting with Mao Sedona in Peking. During the end of their time together Mao Sedona invited Sunken back to talk with him before departing and had a chilling conversation in which he told Sunken that “religion is poison” and that Tibet had been poisoned.
This scene lends itself well to further questioning what China’s ultimate motivation was upon invading Tibet and if there were alternatives to destroying the unique Tibetan culture or if that was the goal from the beginning. Regardless of China’s motivation, one must ask if Tibet will be better off in terms of modern medical care, education and no theocracy versus completely maintaining their religion and culture.
Aesthetics undoubtedly played a huge role in the making of the film and helped weave the story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama in a way that was intriguing and ministering at the same At times I Dunn myself so mesmerism’s Witt the cinematography used to portray the Buddhist traditions that it was hard to follow what was going on during the actual rituals. For example, there were colored sand creations, Mandalay, pictured throughout the film and it was not until after the film had concluded and I watched it over that I was able to understand the symbolism and beauty in creating and destroying the sand sculptures.
However, there were also scenes in which aesthetics enhanced the film in such a way that it would not have had the same impact without it. In this case, the scene in which Sunken is dreaming and finds all of the Tibetan dead in a circle around him and the camera spirals up and away from him with more and more people dead. There is something beautiful about the way Scores used the camera and colors to portray the intense internal turmoil that Sunken was experiencing and without these dramatic scenes the film would not have been as special.
At the end of the film I was left feeling sad for Sunken and the people of Tibet but also very confused if the Tibetan benefited from the Chinese invasion or not. There is no denying that the Tibetan theocracy was not getting everything right during its rule over Tibet. While their lack of modern medicine and extreme poverty were only two of the countless things missing in Tibetan lives I am still convinced the Chinese were not Justified to enter the country forcefully and destroy the unique culture based there. This film left me feeling inspired to explore my own views on “progression” and what it meaner for the ancient world.