Seven Years in Tibet

July 7, 2015

seven years in tibet elitereWe think that the West and the Eastern world are very different from one another. However, there are times in history when both of them are equally threatened by totalitarian regimes. Some people believe that history is cyclical, but sometimes it can be somewhat simultaneous and this aspect can be seen clearly in the war drama Seven Years in Tibet.

Seven Years in Tibet is a 1997 film created by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, inspired by the 1952 autobiographical novel bearing the same name, written by Heinrich Harrer himself. The protagonist, played by Brad Pitt, along with Peter Aufschnaiter (played by David Thewlis) and their team go on a four months expedition on the Himalayas, leaving behind their families in Nazi occupied Austria. Their dream to conquer the harsh mountains will shatter due to the outbreak of the Second World War and their Germanic identities will make Harrer, Aufschnaiter and the others to end up as prisoners of war in a British camp, in Northern India.

After five years and many failed attempts, Harrer and his companion succeed in escaping the camp and painstakingly cross the border in Tibet, where they enter the holy city of Lhasa and where the spiritual leader of Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama, lived. There, the two European men have a hard time adapting to the unfamiliar customs of the Tibetans, a nation that wasn’t too welcoming to foreigners. However, they befriend a few locals and authorities who help them feel somewhat like home. The young Dalai Lama wants to meet Heinrich Harrer and the Austrian is introduced to the holy monk, who (like every eight-year-old) is very curious and wants to know more about the Western culture. The mountaineer grows fond of the boy – it might be a lost paternal affection for the son he has left in Austrian and never met – teaches him geography and even tries to build a cinema for his holiness.

The most heartbreaking moment is the Chinese invasion, which will lead to the annexation of Tibet to the People’s Republic of China. It was not a difficult task to achieve, because of local treason and the unskilled army of Tibet – a country that promoted peace and tolerance. Three Chinese communist generals enter the Potala Palace in order to negotiate Tibet’s surrender. They disrespect everything from Buddhist customs to the Dalai Lama himself, a moment which symbolizes the beginning of the end for both Tibet as a free province and for its spiritual leader, who will be forced to flee to India.

Besides the fascinating imagery of Tibet, a mysterious and remote country, and the customs of the Buddhist monks, I enjoyed the fact that all of Heinrich Harrer’s experiences, but especially the encounter with the Dalai Lama, made the protagonist change from a self-centered and rebellious mountain climber to a sensible man, one who somehow felt the absence of the son he hadn’t met. Through the spiritual leader’s kind nature, Heinrich will try to form a bond with his son Rolf.

I think that Seven Years in Tibet is a timeless film that tackles undying themes like war, peace, religion and seven years in tibet 2 elitereidentity – both of an individual and a group – in times of turmoil. Though nowadays we are less tempted to watch films inspired by historical events, depicted more or less accurately on screen, they can make us curious to find more information about a certain topic and thus we can have a better understanding of the past, present and future.

by Alina Andreea Cătărău

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2 Responses to Seven Years in Tibet

  1. Dana Catarau on July 7, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    What a wondeful and great movie!!!

    • Alina Andreea Cătărău on July 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      Indeed it is, mum, I’m glad you enjoyed it! :*

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