Dalai Lama Renaissancecould very easily be one of these depressingly worthy films in which the great and the good expatiate on their grand ideas about what’s wrong with the world. That’s how it seems to start out, then almost magically, it turns into something rather different.
Harrison Ford’s solemn introduction about “40 of the world’s most innovative thinkers meeting with the Dalai Lama to solve many of the world’s problems” had me checking the location of the emergency exits. Harrison Ford is not a natural narrator, and his introduction to the film in solemn, earnest tones is off-putting. He seems to be announcing: “This is a serious film.”
Get beyond this, and beyond some of the rather sententious statements of the “innovative thinkers” as they gather at Dharamsala, and the film rapidly grabs hold of you. It does so by not being about the world’s problems at all, but about individuals and about the many illusions they have about themselves and about each other.
The people who have been invited are mostly highly articulate and often very thoughtful, many of them holding positions at the top of their various professions, albeit mostly with New Age leanings. They include people like Fred Alan Wolf, a theoretical physicist; Vicki Robin, co-author of Your Money or Your Life; Harry Morgan Moses, a motivational corporate trainer; and Thomas Forsthoefel, an associate professor of religious studies. They are all in Dharamsala to interact, to find ways to share their insights and develop a plan to save the world. At least that is what they think.
The personality of the Dalai Lama is a constant presence in the film, though he leaves the intellectuals to do most of the talking. Insisting that he is nothing but a “simple monk,” he manages to bring them down to earth with a thump whenever their ideas fly off into the stratosphere. There is plenty of humor, all the more revealing for its being unintentional on the part of the conference participants. As some of them recognize, for all their intellectual attainments, they are egotistical and self-absorbed people who want to lead, who want to be the ones who put forward the plan.
The earnestness of this New Age conference is the source of plentiful humor, and director Khashyar Darvich is not inclined to be over-deferential. Arguments erupt over who gets to talk and when. The problems Fred Wolf and fellow theoretical physicist Amit Goswami have in setting up terms for a discussion (they never succeed) is top-notch comedy, and when the Dalai Lama puts the kibosh on various political and economic means of solving the “Tibet problem,” he leaves his proactive do-gooder congregation momentarily flummoxed.
Rather than solving the world’s problems, these leading intellectuals find themselves embarked on a journey of self-discovery, the Dalai Lama a jesting pilot at the helm. In relation to the Tibet issue, the Dalai Lama’s attitude forces a number of them to realize that they need to resolve their own personal Tibets before they can sally forth in aid of the Dalai Lama’s. In a sense, they are very nicely told where they get off, and with the blessing of the Dalai Lama, they should go home and think about things more clearly.
Many people who view this film will share many of the assumption of the predominantly Western conference participants. To solve a problem, you form a plan and then you implement it. The Dalai Lama suggests that nothing is that simple. It is amusing to see the group of high-powered thinkers put in their place, but the lessons of Dalai Lama Renaissance apply just as much to the audience watching this insightful documentary.