With the unadulterated joy of a child at play, a giggling two-and-a-half-year-old handles a number of objects that litter his table. To the boy, this is nothing more than a simple diversion. To the gathering of monks who surround him, watching and appraising this unprepossessing child, it is a sacred process of insightful divination. For from this seemingly innocent game, the boy reveals himself as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and is placed on a course of destiny from which he transforms his country, inspires his followers, and shifts the world's gaze to the trials of his people at a flashpoint moment in their long, rich history.
In 1937, this child, from a rural family in Tibet, was recognized as the fourteenth reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. Exalted as the latest in the lineage of Dalai Lamas, this young boy would be educated by the finest minds of his country and positioned to lead Tibet through its most unsettling period of political strife and spiritual adversity. When Mao Zedong's Chinese communist army began ravaging his homeland in 1950, the Dalai Lama stood alone on the world stage, refusing to sacrifice the Buddhist principle of nonviolence throughout his country's long resistance.
Director Martin Scorsese brings to the screen the true story of one of our era's most compelling and inspiring figures, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Told through the eyes of His Holiness, "Kundun" chronicles his early life, from childhood through the Chinese occupation and his journey into exile. The film charts his extraordinary growth into a figure who raises the world's consciousness about the Buddhist society of the spirit, the plight of Tibet, and the sufferings endured by his people with unspeakable grace and dignity. It is the story of a remarkable boy, imbued with the insight and wisdom of centuries, whose will proves indomitable and spirit inviolate.
Casting director Ellen Lewis traveled around the world to discover the individuals who would become a part of "Kundun." As she and Scorsese, along with producer Barbara DeFina and screenwriter Melissa Mathison, began selecting the individuals whose physical characteristics, mastery of English, and dramatic abilities fit the parts, an unusual phenomenon began to emerge: Many of the cast members happened to be directly related to the characters they were chosen to play, and some had family ties to the Dalai Lama himself. What all of the cast members shared was an emotional attachment to this story. As Martin Scorsese recalls, "These people have an incredible passion for sharing their story with the world."
Melissa Mathison, who nutured "Kundun" through 14 drafts and nearly seven years of development, elaborates, "You couldn't find actors who could play these parts the way our cast did. The emotion that is generated from the inside of them is amazing. It's their story, and they all have a stake in it. They all have a story to tell, and they all have a moment, somewhere, that is very special to them. Everyone who plays a part in the film has played a part in the history of Tibet. There's nobody in the movie who hasn't lived the movie in one way, shape, or form."