Should you decide to see this
movie, pee before you go in and
don't get the large drink. The movie is two and half hours long, but worth the viewing time. The movie is visually compelling, beautifully written, and our main character, Hienrich Werner (Brad Pitt) is engrossing.
Our story begins in Austria in 1939. Hienrich is leaving German-occupied Austria for a mountain climbing expedition in the Himalayas. His wife, who is pregnant and will deliver by the time he returns, does not want him to go. While on the expedition, England declares war on Germany and the crew is taken into custody in English India. After several years in an interment camp, and several failed escape attempts, he succeeds in escaping with several members of the original crew, and a few others. The impetus for this last escape attempt comes in the form of a letter from his wife, informing Hienrich that she intends to divorce him and raise their son as her new husband's. All but Hienrich and Peter, the original leader of the climbing expedition, are captured or return to the camp. Peter and Hienrich decide that they are going to travel on to Tibet. Peter has decided that he will continue to China to look for work and adventure. Hienrich has decided that he has no reason to return to Austria. This trek across the Himalayas is a great lesson in friendship for Hienrich. The emotional plot here is beautifully complimented by the stark beauty of the Himalayas.
The Tibetans believe that walking long distances to holy places absolves us of our sins against man. Hienrich says on this journey, in an imaginary conversation with his son, that he hopes this trek to Lasa, the holy city of Tibet, will absolve him of his sins. While I'm not sure that the trek itself absolved him of his sins, I am sure that he found absolution in his relationship with the Dali Lama. In a telling scene near the end of the movie, the Dali Lama has a terrible dream about the destruction of the village where he grew up. He calls for Hienrich who comes to comfort his Holiness. During the course of the night, the Dali Lama comes to Hienrich and says that he cannot go back to sleep and would like to hear a story about mountain climbing. Hienrich tells the Dali Lama that stories of mountain climbing bore even him. So the Dali Lama asks him to speak about why he climbs. Hienrich relates that climbing is the simplest act on earth. That when one climbs there is no chaos, no confusion, only focus and purpose. He relates the sense of peace that comes over one when one is focused on climbing. He has only felt this sense of peace in one other place, and that is when he is with his Holiness.
China invades Tibet. It's not much of a war as the Chinese decimate the Tibetans in just eleven days. Hienrich believes that he must take the Dali Lama from Tibet and goes about making plans to escape. When Hienrich goes to the Dali Lama to tell him that he has made plans to take him from Tibet, the Dali Lama tells him that he can go with him. He cannot run from his destiny, which is the spiritual guidance of his people. He explains that he is not Hienrich's destiny, that he is not Hienrich's son, and that he has never thought of Hienrich as his father. It is Hienrich's destiny to be a father and so he must leave to follow his destiny.
The visuals in this movie are, quite frankly, beyond description. Tibet is a country that is little more than weather-beaten rock, but its stark, brutal beauty is captured. Would that I could write as beautifully as Hienrich, as he writes to his son. I'm not sure if they actually used Hienrich's writing when creating the script, but his words moved me more than I can say. And the movie itself is written as beautifully as Hienrich's letters to his son. This is a movie of self-discovery. It is a movie about the heights that can be reached by even the must base and self-serving among us.