Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (born Lhamo Dondrub) – the 14th and current Dalai Lama – turns 77 today. The Dalai Lama is the head monk of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and Tenzin Gyatso’s leadership since 1950 makes him the longest serving incumbent. He’s also the best known, having proactively taken his advocacy for Tibetan welfare and autonomy across the globe, recruiting international celebrities such as Richard Gere and Steven Seagal (remember him??) along the way. The Dalai Lama’s hard work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, as well as the ire of the Chinese government, which has forced him to live in exile in Dharamshala, India since 1959.
Today, in honor of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, we bring you five movies based on Tibet, the land Tenzin Gyatso has tirelessly served since the age of 15. How many of these have you seen?
Probably the best known of the lot, this Hollywood epic starring Brad Pitt is based on the true story of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer and takes place during WWI.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
Released shortly after Seven Years in Tibet, Kundun is legendary Director Martin Scorcese‘s attempt at pictorializing the life and writings of Tenzin Gyatso. This is one to watch if you’re looking for a longer perspective on the Dalai Lama’s life, and stars Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, a grand nephew of the Dalai Lama, to boot.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Betcha didn’t know this one – but you probably should. Chinese Director Lu Chuan‘s narrative of vigilante rangers and Tibetan poachers won numerous international accolades, and features an almost completely Tibetan amateur cast. Scoring an whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is one movie not to miss.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Not all stories about Tibet concern war and confrontation – and The Cup beautifully demonstrates that. This light-hearted tale of a young Tibetan refugee’s quest to bring television into his monastery is not only heart-warming and hilarious, it’s also based on a remarkable true story. The goal of scoring a TV? Watching the finals of the 1998 football World Cup. How can you not love it already?
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
I know what you’re thinking, especially if you just watched the trailer: WTF? It may be hard to believe, but this American Sci-Fi flick is a metaphorical tale based on the struggles of the people of Tibet. Rather than get into it here, take a read of this excellent blog post by Tibetan escapee Tenzin Bhagen, who was an extra in the film. It’s a fun read, as he explains the Tibet connection but also details his awestruck interactions with the movie’s lead stars Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%