Haven’t written in a long time partially because I’ve been thinking a lot about what this blog should do when everyone and their cat is lending their voice and meows in a large, collective howl via the internet. I’m going to try not to make a big deal of the absence and might write about it some other time in a separate post. I just want to acknowledge the silence without dwelling. Onward now…
I had a chance to see a documentary called The Next Guardian through the SF Film Festival this year. Arun Bhattarai and Dorrotya Zurbo directed this slice of life from Bhutan, a region in the Himalayas between China and India. I appreciate the importance placed on symbolism in the movie because it made this viewer realize the conflict in a way that felt like a conversation tugging in various ways. The documentary had a surface-level statement about the sadness surrounding the loss of tradition. However, through signs and symbols, the piece argues with itself. Visually, the children playing and bathing in the river, interacting with rocks is an allusion to eastern philosophy. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so sad to see Gyembo’s lack of interest in his family’s Buddhist monastery because an individual’s decision in how they participate isn’t that different from watching the various ripples and bubbles within a river. Life goes on the way it will without all the drama and importance that we like to give to things. We’re all just a ripple. The river will still be the same despite its constant state of change.
Close to the end of the movie, Gyembo and his sibling, Tashi, are seen rolling rocks down a huge basin. There are piles of these spherical rocks (about the size of bowling balls) which seem to have been shaped like so because people took the time to roll them down this basin. If you think about moving water shaping these rocks as a reference frame, the scene becomes more meaningful: these kids are shaping their own future as they let go and joke about going to hell as they chat about what Gyembo will do with his life. Later, we see the two climbing layers of stone slabs for a view and I wonder if that particular scene is about overcoming such solid, deeply embedded traditions.
As a western viewer of this piece, I felt privileged to observe something subtly different (to me at least) in the way the father views change. In the car on the way to a monastery, Gyembo’s father talked about the evils of going into higher education because it is a way of life that is too expensive or time-consuming in order to achieve superficiality (hearing this about education is something new to me). He talked about how if Gyembo studied business, his life would be partially based on deception, which would bring bad karma. Even becoming a farmer is not good because Gyembo would hurt worms and other living things in the soil. Hearing this last bit seems amusing and slightly ridiculous at first but then you realize that perhaps it isn’t as ridiculous as we think given the context of Buddhism. The fears of Gyembo’s father based on his reference frame are valid and honest. I can’t help that I chuckled…but at least it happened in my mind and no one saw it. Maybe. Who knows.
Another point of appreciation: this movie is filled with bright, warm yellows and reds, children laughing, and well-timed humor despite the bleak topic and conflict between a father and son. It figures out a way to make light of the situation despite this struggle that does call for serious thought. Everyone can relate because everyone has dealt with their own similar struggle to choose between obligation and personal desire.
If you see it, I hope you enjoy it. Time to see it: Weekend, early afternoon is best. Right after breakfast when you wanted to sleep in but accidentally woke up the same time you do for work is also good.