Based on the life of the legendary Tibetan monk, “Milarepa” feels at times a bit like a Buddhist version of what Harry Potter wants to be.
On his deathbed, a wealthy man entrusts his brother to look after his widow and young son, and safeguard his fortune for his son to inherit upon coming of age. But the brother squanders the fortune for his own pleasure, treats his sister-in-law and nephew like slaves. After years of hard work and near starvation, the widow asks that the fortune be given to her son, who is now a man. The brother refuses. The widow arranges for her son to take revenge.
This simple plot is not unfamiliar to moviegoers–but its unlikely theyve seen it presented as it is in Milarepa, a sort of spiritual biopic about Mila Thopaga, an 11th century monk, who is still one of the most revered teachers in the history and tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He was a humble man who became an extraordinary yogi.
According to legend, Thopaga took revenge against his wicked uncle through sorcery, the poor mans weapon. In the film, he finds a teacher, masters the dark arts, causes great storm that destroys his enemies–and immediately feels enormous remorse about the pain and suffering hes caused. He seeks guidance to find a better path, and becomes Milarepa, the monk.
Whether you believe in sorcery or not, Milarepa is a magical film: characters paint symbols on their soles so they can walk with the speed of wind, they cross the screen as shimmering and transparent clouds of dust, they levitate rocks, move mountains, cause thick fog that clouds the minds of those who would harm them, summons huge storms with striking displays of lightening. And, all of this is achieved without big budget CG, pyrotechnics and animatronics. The effects are stunning in their simplicity. Then, as Milarepa sits in meditation, we are treated to a fascinating, wonder-filled cinematic representation of enlightenment.
Perhaps the film is so successful in presenting transcendent elements because the films director, Neten Chokling, understands these things better than most. He is, in fact, a Tibetan lama, trained within the lineage of masters that goes back to Milarepa, who has moviemaker chops. Sensitive and exquisite cinematography reveals the mystical majesty of mountain tops (the film was shot with northern India substituting for Tibet) and intimately captures the actors truly mythic performances.
While youre enjoying the adventure, take a moment to digest the films message. More the pleasantly flavored vitamin than bitter pill, the moral is easy to swallow.