Tibet or Not Tibet | Sojourners

Tibet or Not Tibet

In October China’s teflon president Jiang Zemin did a quick march through the symbols of American democracy, including a brief stop at Independence Hall to see the Liberty Bell. However, Thomas Jefferson’s ringing indictment against subjugation of citizens seems to have slid benignly off Jiang’s back. At the same time, with the release of the films Seven Years in Tibet, Red Corner, and Kundun, Hollywood has become Dalai-wood!

Heinrich Harrer’s biography, Seven Years in Tibet, veers dangerously close to the newest in Nazi-chic films. Harrer (Brad Pitt) was an Austrian mountain climber bent on putting the flag of the Third Reich on the top of any mountain they would let him climb. In 1939, Harrer leaves his pregnant wife to scale 26,600-foot Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. By the time the trek team descends (without making it to the top), Britain has entered the war against Germany; and the climbers, now enemy aliens, are carted off to a prisoner-of-war camp in India. After a few years of regular attempts to escape, Harrer and trek leader Peter Aufchnaiter (David Thewlis) foil the Brits and hightail it back into the Himalayas, eventually to the forbidden and mysterious city of Lhasa in Tibet.

Even with Jean-Jacques Annaud’s expansive direction and sharp cinematography, the show is slow until Shangri La. Brad Pitt doesn’t carry the conversion force necessary to go from "good Nazi" to "spiritually enlightened one" no matter how hard he tries.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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