Seven Years in Tibet

Seven Years in Tibet from Tri-Star, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud,
stars the egregious Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber
in the Himalayas who is interned by the British in India as an enemy alien at
the outbreak of the Second World War. He and his fellow Teuton climber, Peter
Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis) manage to escape and make their way to Tibet, where
they settle down and are accepted in spite of a deep local suspicion of and
hostility towards foreigners. Peter marries and Heinrich becomes a tutor and
companion to the young Dalai Lama (Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuck). Heinrich stays
until the Chinese invade and take over the country, then he returns to Austria
to try to establish a relationship with the son who was born shortly after he
left in 1939 and whom he has never seen.

The story has potentially epic dimensions. Its point is to show the arrogant
and solitary Heinrich ( “no wonder
you’re always
alone,” says Peter to him:
“no one can stand your miserable
company” ), who in real life seems to
have been a dedicated Nazi, becoming gradually humanized, first by his friendship
with Peter and second by the example of the gentle people among whom he finds
himself. It is a land, he writes his young son Rolf, where people
“walk long distances to holy
places” believing that this
“purifies the soul of bad deeds. The
greater the distance of the journey, the greater the depth of the
purification.” He, of course, has
walked a very long distance from his prison camp in India, but he and
Peter are accepted by the Tibetans partly because of admiration for their
amazing feat in so footing it.

Yet, despite the glorious scenery, the film is a bore. Its ends up passing
too lightly over the conflict between Heinrich and Peter and trivializing it so
that it can get to the big, world-historical, geo-political conflict which might
confirm its epic status. This is the Chinese invasion and subjugation of Tibet.
It is clear to the meanest intelligence that the Tibetans
haven’t the slightest chance against
the Red Chinese Army, but Heinrich, especially, is meant to get rather a fillip
to his credibility by what is actually a very cheap tone of self-righteous
moral indignation toward his former friend and Tibetan patron who seeks an
accommodation with the Chinese. Of course, it is not Heinrich who will suffer the
consequences of the splendid and doomed defiance he recommends. He hightails it
back to Austria and takes up mountain climbing again. Talk about

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