Little Buddha seems like the kind of film that was meant to capitalise on America’s infatuation with East Asian culture, particularly Buddhism, which I suspect was becoming insanely trendy for liberals during the 1990’s. That aside, the film itself seems to have been intended as an epic spiritual journey, and though I think it’s more for believers than any other demographic, I still find myself fascinated and somewhat enthralled by the film’s lofty vision.
The story is essentially split into two story arcs that eventually come together. One is the story of a group of monks travelling in search of a little boy from Seattle who they believe to be the reincarnation of a great Buddhist teacher named Lama Dorje, and the other is a rather religious retelling of the story of Siddhartha Guatama Buddha, and his quest for enlightenment.
The story sort of comes across as a naive parable of spirituality, or more or less the kind Hollywood liberals liked to dabble in back in the day. I found the idea that of a little boy being the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama to be rather ridiculous, and serving only the purpose of making an American (let alone from Seattle of all places) the centre of the plot, and it really seems to make this film a relic of a rather silly point in history. By contrast, the re-enactment of the story of the Buddha may well have been the best part of the movie, mainly because it was told in a very compelling way, and trust me, you don’t have to be religious in order to appreciate the way they’ve faithfully recreated the story of Buddha.
The acting throughout the film is quite good, and is best in the scenes with the Buddha. Keanu Reeves is a surprisingly good fit for the role. Aside from looking the part, he delivers a stand-out performance that, believe it or not, suits the role quite well, and it’s definitely a big leap from Bill and Ted. All the characters performed well in this film, even Alex Wiesendanger, the young boy who’s supposed to be the lead character, back when such starry-eyed child characters were still universally endearing (nowadays, they’re often more annoying, especially in family films).
The film also sported very good production values for the time, and took a rather interesting approach in terms of direction. Most of the scenes set in America are deliberately given a sober blue-grey lighting, while most of the scenes set in Asia (including the story of Buddha and the flight to Bhutan) are given a lush red-orange colour scheme. I think this is intended to present two different worlds in two different lights, though I think it indicates a bit of a bias in favour of Eastern spirituality. I don’t particularly mind though, because I think it gave the film a unique visual identity.
Overall, with nice characters, an unbelievable yet consistently interesting premise, and a compelling narrative and atmosphere, this, in my opinion, is a very underrated film, and it’s certainly one of those films where seeing is believing.
- Score: 75%
- Grade: B