Kundun Pelicula Critical Thinking

Kundun is a 1997 epicbiographical film written by Melissa Mathison and directed by Martin Scorsese. It is based on the life and writings of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the exiled political and spiritual leader of Tibet. Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, a grandnephew of the Dalai Lama, stars as the adult Dalai Lama, while Tencho Gyalpo, a niece of the Dalai Lama, appears as the Dalai Lama's mother.

The film according to Roger Ebert was "made of episodes, not a plot" and he gave the film three stars out of four. Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the film "emotionally remote" but praised its look and its musical score. Richard Corliss praised the cinematography and score as well. Barry Norman, chief film critic at the BBC opined that Kundun was both beautifully and intelligently made.

"Kundun" (སྐུ་མདུན་་Wylie: sku mdun in Tibetan), meaning "presence", is a title by which the Dalai Lama is addressed. Kundun was released only a few months after Seven Years in Tibet, sharing the latter's location and its depiction of the Dalai Lama at several stages of his youth, though Kundun covers a period three times longer.


The film has a linear chronology with events spanning from 1937 to 1959;[2] the setting is Tibet, except for brief sequences in China and India. It begins with the search for the 14th mindstreamemanation of the Dalai Lama. After a vision by Reting Rinpoche (the regent of Tibet) several lamas disguised as servants discover a promising candidate: a child born to a farming family in the province of Amdo, near the Chinese border.

These and other lamas administer a test to the child in which he must select from various objects the ones that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama. The child passes the test, and he and his family are brought to Potala Palace in Lhasa, where he will be installed as Dalai Lama when he comes of age.

During the journey, the child becomes homesick and frightened, but is comforted by Reting, who tells him the story of the first Dalai Lama–whom the lamas called "Kundun". As the film progresses, the boy matures in both age and learning. After a brief power struggle in which Reting is imprisoned and dies, the Dalai Lama begins taking a more active role in governance and religious leadership.

Meanwhile, the Chinese communists, recently victorious in their revolution, are proclaiming Tibet a traditional part of Imperial China and express their desire to reincorporate it with the newly formed People's Republic of China. Eventually, despite Tibet's pleas to the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, and India for intervention, Chinese Communist forces invade Tibet. The Chinese are initially helpful, but when the Tibetans resist Communist reorganization and reeducation of their society, the Chinese become oppressive.

Following a series of atrocities suffered by his people, the Dalai Lama resolves to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing. While Mao publicly expresses his sympathies to the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama, and insists that changes must be made as the Dalai Lama sees fit, relations inevitably deteriorate. During their face-to-face meeting on the final day of the Dalai Lama's visit, Mao makes clear his socialist view that "religion is poison" and that the Tibetans are "poisoned and inferior" because of it.

Upon his return to Tibet, the Dalai Lama learns of more horrors perpetrated against his people, who have by now repudiated their treaty with China and begun guerrilla action against the Chinese. After the Chinese make clear their intention to kill him, the Dalai Lama is convinced by his family and his Lord Chamberlain to flee to India.

After consulting the Nechung Oracle about the proper escape route, the Dalai Lama and his staff put on disguises and slip out of Lhasa under cover of darkness. During an arduous journey, throughout which they are pursued by the Chinese, the Dalai Lama becomes very ill and experiences two personal visions, first that their trip to India will be propitious and that, similarly, their eventual return to Tibet will also be propitious. The group eventually makes it to a small mountain pass on the Indian border. As the Dalai Lama walks to the guard post, an Indian guard approaches him, salutes, and inquires: "Are you the Lord Buddha?" The Dalai Lama replies with the film's final line: "I think that I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself." Once the Dalai Lama arrives at his new residence, he unpacks his telescope and steps outside. Erecting it and removing his spectacles, he gazes through it toward the Himalayas–and toward Tibet. The film concludes with two lines printed on screen: "The Dalai Lama has not yet returned to Tibet. He hopes one day to make the journey." The words shimmer into a dissolve upon the black screen as the credits begin.


  • Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong as the Dalai Lama (Adult)
    • Gyurme Tethong as the Dalai Lama (Age 12)
    • Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin as the Dalai Lama (Age 5)
    • Tenzin Yeshi Paichang as the Dalai Lama (Age 2)
  • Tencho Gyalpo as the Dalai Lama's mother
  • Tenzin Topjar as Lobsang (age 5 to 10)
  • Tsewang Migyur Khangsar as the Dalai Lama's father
  • Tenzin Lodoe as Takster Rinpoche
  • Tsering Lhamo as Tsering Dolma
  • Geshi Yeshi Gyatso as the Lama of Sera
  • Losang Gyatso as The Messenger (as Lobsang Gyatso)
  • Sonam Phuntsok as Reting Rinpoche
  • Gyatso Lukhang as Lord Chamberlain
  • Lobsang Samten as Master of the Kitchen
  • Jigme Tsarong as Taktra Rinpoche (as Tsewang Jigme Tsarong)
  • Tenzin Trinley as Ling Rinpoche
  • Robert Lin as chairman Mao Zedong
  • Jurme Wangda as Prime Minister Lukhangwa
  • Jill Hsia as Little Girl


The project began when screenwriter Melissa Mathison, whose best-known work was ET, met with the Dalai Lama and asked him if she could write about his life. According to Turner Classic Movies, "he gave her his blessing and his time, sitting for interviews that became the basis of her script"; it was Mathison's suggestion that Scorsese be brought in as director.[3]

Most of the film was shot at the Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate, Morocco; some scenes were filmed at the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery in Woodstock, New York.[4][5]


Even before the film was released, China's leaders hotly objected to Disney's plans to distribute the film, even to the point of threatening Disney's future access to China as a market.[6] Disney's steadfastness stood in stark contrast to Universal Pictures, which had earlier "turned down the chance to distribute Kundun for fear of upsetting the Chinese."[6] Scorsese, Mathison, and several other members of the production were banned by the Chinese government from ever entering China as a result of making the film.[7][8] China retaliated by banning Disney films and pulling Disney television cartoons.[9] Disney apologized in 1998 for releasing the film and began to "undo the damage", eventually leading to a deal to open Shanghai Disneyland by 2016.[10]


The film did poorly at the box office, taking in less than $6 million in a limited U.S. distribution.[1]Kundun was nominated for four Academy Awards: for Art Direction (Dante Ferretti, art direction and Francesca Lo Schiavo, set decoration), Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Costume Design, and Original Score (Philip Glass). The film holds a 76% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 59 reviews, indicating generally positive reviews.[11]

Critical reviews[edit]

The film according to Roger Ebert was "made of episodes, not a plot".[12]Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the film "emotionally remote" but praises its look and its score: "The movie is a triumph for the cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has given it the look of an illuminated manuscript. As its imagery becomes more surreal and mystically abstract, Mr. Glass's ethereal electronic score, which suggests a Himalayan music of the spheres, gathers force and energy and the music and pictures achieve a sublime synergy."[2]Richard Corliss praised the cinematography and score as well: "Aided by Roger Deakins' pristine camera work and the euphoric drone of Philip Glass's score, Scorsese devises a poem of textures and silences. Visions, nightmares and history blend in a tapestry as subtle as the Tibetans' gorgeous mandalas of sand."[6]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, saying: "There is rarely the sense that a living, breathing and (dare I say?) fallible human inhabits the body of the Dalai Lama. Unlike Scorsese's portrait of Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, this is not a man striving for perfection, but perfection in the shape of a man. ... Once we understand that Kundun will not be a drama involving a plausible human character, we are freed to see the film as it is: an act of devotion, an act even of spiritual desperation, flung into the eyes of 20th century [sic] materialism. The film's visuals and music are rich and inspiring, and like a mass by Bach or a Renaissance church painting, it exists as an aid to worship: It wants to enhance, not question."[12]David Edelstein called the movie a hagiography whose "music ties together all the pretty pictures, gives the narrative some momentum, and helps to induce a kind of alert detachment, so that you're neither especially interested nor especially bored."[13]

Barry Norman, chief film critic at the BBC opined that Kundun was "beautifully and intelligently made, far more impressive, for instance, than the recent Seven Years in Tibet".[14] As Kundun was released in the UK four months after its original release, Norman was able to probe Scorsese about the film's promotion. Writing about his interview with Scorsese, Norman said,

Yet it seems to be Scorsese, rather than the studio, who is doing most to promote the film. So I asked him "Did Disney back you up when it came out? Did they really put themselves behind it to try to sell it?" Now Scorsese is a decent and diplomatic man, who likes to be fair to everybody, but eventually he said: "I personally think that, unfortunately, they didn't push the picture." For fear of offending China? "Who knows?" he said. But, perhaps significantly, he also said: "The market China represents is enormous, not just for Disney but many other corporations around the world."[14]



External links[edit]

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Kundun
At the beginning of the film the two-year-old boy (Tenzin Yeshi Paichang) is visited at his rural birthplace in Amdo by the searching lamas and undertakes a test to confirm his identity as the "Bodhisattva".
The Dalai Lama as portrayed in the film as a young man.
The young Dalai Lama as portrayed in the film.
  1. ^ abcKundun from The Numbers
  2. ^ abDecember 24, 1997 Review from The New York Times
  3. ^Overview of Kundun from the Turner Classic Movies website
  4. ^Karma Triyana Dharmachakra – The Monastery
  5. ^"Young Spiritual Leader Arrives in New York Ready to Teach and Be Taught" from the New York Times May 16, 2008
  6. ^ abcDisney's China Policy from Time magazine
  7. ^"Change of direction for Scorsese". The National. 
  8. ^"37 Celebrities Banned From Foreign Countries". BuzzFeed. 
  9. ^Barboza, David; Barnes, Brooks (June 14, 2016). "How China Won the Keys to Disney's Magic Kingdom". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2017. 
  10. ^Brzeski, Patrick (June 8, 2016). "Shanghai Disney Resort Finally Opens After 5 Years of Construction and $5.5B Spent". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016. Retrieved June 9, 2016. 
  11. ^"Kundun Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  12. ^ abReview by Roger Ebert
  13. ^Edelstein, David (December 26, 1997). "Holding Their Fire". Slate. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  14. ^ ab"Martin Scorsese's KUNDUN conundrum". Radio Times. April 4–10, 1998. 

Lesson Plans Based on Movies & Film Clips!                                         

Search TWM    What's New    Advertise        
Terms of Use   


    SUBJECTS — World/Tibet & China; Religions/Buddhism;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Rebellion; Leadership;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
    Age: 13+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 (for violent images); Drama; 1997; 128 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     This is the story of the 14th Dalai Lama, from the "discovery" of his "reincarnation" at age two until his self-exile in India after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Before he reaches maturity, the Dalai Lama is placed at the head of his small, undeveloped and very religious country. He must contend with the surging strength and territorial ambitions of China, a newly unified and invigorated great power. The film shows how the boy grows to be a young man, trying to do what is right and serve his people, while resisting the Chinese through nonviolence. The film also shows some of the superstitions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.

    Benefits of the Movie:     "Kundun" will introduce children to Tibet, to its relationship with China, and to the Dalai Lama.

    Possible Problems:     MODERATE. The script of this film was written by people who revere the Dalai Lama. It was reviewed and authorized by the Dalai Lama himself. The movie should be seen in that light.

    Parenting Points:     China continues its efforts to undermine the Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama is still in exile and has become a major religious leader. Make sure your child understands this and then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Questions.


WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:  1998 National Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Cinematography; 1998 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Art Direction - Set Decoration; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Music - Original Dramatic Score; 1998 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Musical Score.

      Featured Actors:  Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin, Tenzin Yeshi Paichang, Tencho Gyalpo.

      Director:  Martin Scorsese.

Helpful Background:

For a brief description of Buddhist theology see Learning Guide to Little Buddha.

Tibet is a huge country, about the size of Western Europe or three times the size of California. It consists of a high plateau surrounded by some of the highest mountain ranges in the world. Tibet is rich in mineral resources. The climate is dry with temperatures ranging from very cold in the mountains to mild in the valleys. The dry climate discourages epidemics and permits the storage of grain for 50 to 60 years. The Tibetan people, between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 in number, come from one ethnic group. They share the same language, customs, and religion. Before the 1950 Chinese invasion, Tibet was ruled by a theocracy and sought isolation from the world. Its economic development was minimal. The vast majority of its people were nomads or subsistence farmers.

The most recent Chinese invasion of Tibet occurred in 1950. China has attempted to pull Tibet into the modern world, bringing modern medical care, modern economic development, a network of roads and bridges, modern education and modern Chinese political indoctrination (formerly Communist but we don't really know what to call it now). The Chinese are also attempting to destroy the religious culture of the Tibetans and undermine the power of the religious hierarchy. Tibet is flooded with many temporary Chinese immigrants. The Tibetans resent Chinese influence. There was an open rebellion in 1959, followed by severe Chinese repression, including forced collectivization of farms. There are occasional magazine and newspaper articles about the plight of the Tibetan people. See, e.g., Los Angeles Times, Tuesday August 3, 1999, Page 1.

After years of trying to work within the restraints imposed by the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959. He established a Government in Exile at Dharamsala, India, and he has fought the Chinese occupation of Tibet through nonviolent means. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. The citation reads:

The Committee wants to emphasize the fact that the Dalai Lama in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people.

The Dalai Lama has developed his philosophy of peace from a great reverence for all things living and upon the concept of universal responsibility embracing all mankind as well as nature.
The Dalai Lama continues his nonviolent resistance to Chinese rule. The situation continues to evolve. In early 2000, the young Karmapa Lama, who the Chinese had been grooming as a counterweight to the Dalai Lama's authority, fled from Tibet. He has now joined the Dalai Lama in exile in India.

During his exile, the Dalai Lama has grown from the leader of a small and superstitious sect of Buddhism to a broad-minded and recognized leader of one of the major religions of the world. He has stated that his reincarnation will not occur in Tibet as long as it is controlled by China.


QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION #1:   If you were Mao Zedong, the leader of China, would you have been doing your duty to your country to permit a huge power vacuum, such as Tibet, to exist on your border? What would your people and history have thought if another and potentially hostile power such as Russia, India, or the United States had established a friendly relationship with Tibet? What if that friendly relationship had included foreign military bases on Tibetan soil very close to the Chinese border? Were these "balance of power" considerations enough to justify what China has done in Tibet?

Suggested Response: No. There are several ways of trying to prevent other countries from establishing a power base near your borders. The first is to warn them off, e.g., the Monroe Doctrine of the United States. The second is to be such a good friend to your neighbors, through aid or trade, that they would not want another alliance. The need to prevent a power vacuum does not justify denying independence to another people. Of course, the Chinese are not the only country guilty of trying to invade and/or control their neighbors. For example, the U.S. tried to overthrow the government of Cuba in 1961 with the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Later, we supported a revolution in Nicaragua. The U.S. has traditionally intervened in the Caribbean and Latin America (other recent examples include, Graneda and Panama, to oust hostile regimes. Another example is how Russia, before 1991, treated its neighbors such as the Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic nations (to name a few), controlling some by direct conquest and others through spheres of influence, such as the Iron Curtain.

  Before the Chinese invasion, Tibet was a quaint but backward country. Modern medicine and education were not available. This meant that every day, people were dying unnecessarily and that lives were spent in extreme poverty. The Tibetans were ruled by an ancient theocracy which, while it may have been benevolent, was neither democratically elected nor able to meet the challenges of the modern age. Any change allowed by the monks was very slow. Tibetan society was altered dramatically by the Chinese invasion which brought education, some degree of modern medical care, and economic development. It is, however, generally acknowledged that the Chinese have attempted to destroy Tibetan culture. Given these facts, how would you evaluate the Chinese invasion?

Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to the question and that is a large part of what there is to learn by answering it. A good answer should include the following: There were many things that the Tibetan theocracy didn't get right when it ruled Tibet. The lack of modern medicine, the lack of democracy, the lack of opportunity, especially for women. However, that doesn't mean that the Chinese had the right to invade the country and attempt to destroy its distinctive culture. There were other ways for the Chinese to help the Tibetan people obtain education and modern medicine, ways that did not involve invasion, subjugation and the destruction of Tibetan culture.

    Discussion Questions:

    1.  See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

    2.  If the Dalai Lama returns to Tibet and the Chinese withdraw their troops, what should happen in Tibet in relation to the power of the monks and the Dalai Lama, democracy, and economic development?

    3.  If the Chinese invasion was wrong, should the United States have helped the Dalai Lama and his supporters in Tibet? What form should this help have taken? Help from CIA agents? Troops? Nuclear missiles? Or should the U.S. have simply let China take control of this large and valuable country? What are the pros and cons of each course of action and what would you have done?

    4.  Who is Mao Zedong and what was his relationship with China and with Tibet?

    5.  Do you think that this film uncritically accepts reincarnation, the superstitious practices of Tibetan Buddhism, and the legitimacy of a theocracy in Tibet? Does this affect your view of the film?

    6.  In what way is this film propaganda? If it is propaganda, how does that affect the way in which you react to the film? Compare this film to some of the excellent Allied World War II propaganda, such as Mrs. Miniver. How do these films get their point across? Do they honestly foster a frank discussion of the issues of the time?

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: Buddhism, "The Four Noble Truths", "The Eight-fold Path", Enlightenment, Nirvana, reincarnation, monastery, monk, theocracy, Communism, collectives, propaganda, and "nonviolent civil disobedience."

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:

    1.  Do you believe that nonviolent civil disobedience is an effective strategy in all situations? Is it working now for the people of Tibet? Would it have worked against Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot? Suggested Response: This question can be extended by asking children to compare the following situations: the Indians seeking independence from the British Empire, see Gandhi; the Irish seeking independence from Britain, see Michael Collins; blacks in the American South seeking relief from segregation, see The Long Walk Home or the Burmese people in their resistance to military rule, see Beyond Rangoon. Other examples are: the Russian people seeking the end to the Soviet Union (when Yeltsin faced down Soviet tanks); and the people of the Philippines going into the streets to oust Ferdinand Marcos.

    2.  Compare and contrast Kundun and Mahatma Gandhi describing the situations they faced, their response to the situations, how their response to the situations changed over time, and the political/religious theory they applied. See Learning Guide to "Gandhi".

    3.  Compare and contrast Kundun and Dr. Martin Luther King describing the situations they faced, their response to the situations, how their response to the situations changed over time, and the political/religious theory they applied.

    4.  Compare and contrast Kundun and Michael Collins describing the situations they faced, their response to the situations, how their response to the situations changed over time, and the political/religious theory they applied. See Learning Guide to "Michael Collins".

    5.  Why do you think Kundun's pleas to the West for help went unanswered?

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

    Bridges to Reading: Because of the Dalai Lama's great public relations skills there are usually current articles in newspapers and magazines concerning this issue.

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS:Little Buddha, Gandhi, A Force More Powerful and Michael Collins.

    Assignments, Projects and Activities:Assignments, Projects and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction

  • Class debates can be staged or papers can be written on any of the topics in the Discussion Questions section.

  • Have students locate on a map, China, Beijing, Tibet, Himalayan Mountains, India, Lhasa and Dharamsala.

  • The story of Kundun and Tibet is an ongoing drama. Have students search the internet or back issues of newspapers to find the latest developments.

Become a TWM Fan on

    Bibliography:In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

    • Many thanks to Nora Bevilacqua, a high school social studies teacher from Williamsburg, Virginia, for her valuable suggestions for this Learning Guide.

    Last updated December 10, 2009.

    Spread the GOOD NEWS about


© TeachWithMovies.com, Inc. All rights reserved. Note that unless otherwise indicated any quotations attributed to a source, photographs, illustrations, maps, diagrams or paintings were copied from public domain sources or are included based upon the "fair use" doctrine. No claim to copyright is made as to those items. DVD or VHS covers are in the public domain. TeachWithMovies.org®, TeachWithMovies.com®, Talking and Playing with Movies™, and the pencil and filmstrip logo are trademarks of TeachWithMovies.com, Inc.

TWM grants free limited licenses to copy TWM curriculum materials only to educators in public or non-profit schools and to parents trying to help educate their children. See TWM's Terms of Use for a full description of the free licenses and limits on the rights of others to copy TWM..

0 thoughts on “Kundun Pelicula Critical Thinking

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *