Starring: Brad Pitt, David Thewlis, BD Wong
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Running Time: 136 mins
Seven Years In Tibet is an American film about Austrian Heinrich Harrer, and his time spent in Tibet during the Second World War and the following Chinese invasion of the region, all the while becoming settled in the local environment and striking up a friendship with the young Dalai Lama.
While it definitely takes a while to get going, Seven Years In Tibet ultimately proves a fascinating and even elegant and moving watch. With a majestic setting and an enthralling insight into one of the world’s more closed-off locations, as well as some brilliant historical value, there’s a lot to learn and digest from this movie, while it also offers up some entertaining, if not rather slow, adventure drama along the way too.
Let’s start off with the film’s opening act, which, while not terrible, is certainly the weakest part of all. Following a successful Austrian climber who departs for Tibet with the ambition of scoring a propaganda win for the Nazis, the movie really struggles to find its footing as it runs through a series of underwhelming mishits of emotional back stories early on.
As we follow Brad Pitt and David Thewlis as they embark on an epic walk across an unforgiving landscape, the film never really offers up any depth or drama to give their adventure a little more gravitas. The film does at least have an entertaining sense of adventure as the pair encounter all manner of people and strange scenarios on the way, something that’s made to feel all the more like an Indiana Jones movie by John Williams’ score, but there really isn’t all that much in its opening half to really engross you, which does prove frustrating.
However, that all changes once the story finally settles down in Lhasa, the capital city, and we see a completely different side to the characters that we have followed on foot all the way across the Himalayas from India.
Not only does the film take on a more elegant and emotional atmosphere, but there’s also far more dramatic depth on the table once we get to see more of who Brad Pitt’s character really is, rather than the fairly generic and uninteresting maverick presented to us in the early stages.
He doesn’t totally lose those maverick qualities, and that keeps him an endearing and arguably exciting lead, but it’s through his unlikely relationship with the Dalai Lama, as well as his growing appreciation and affection for Tibet and its culture, that make him a particularly engrossing character to follow towards the finish.
In tandem with that more elegant dramatic atmosphere, his character calms and develops in enthralling fashion, and as he, as well as you as the viewer, become more endeared to Tibet and its customs, the knowledge he imparts to the young Dalai Lama, as well as the sense of responsibility that he discovers through that relationship, brings far more dramatic and emotional depth to the table, and makes for an enthralling watch through the film’s later stages.
What’s more is that, on top of a personal story, there’s real historical value to Seven Years In Tibet as well. Its validity may of course depend on who you ask, but it offers up a fascinating portrayal of the Chinese invasion of Tibet during the 1950s, a historical event that’s often talked about all around the world, but never really demonstrated so clearly.
There are times when the film’s presentation of Chinese soldiers is a little on the simplistic and sensationalist side, but the political wrangling that goes on in the Tibetan government, as well as the role that Brad Pitt’s Heinrich Harrer plays in the development of events, is absolutely fascinating to watch, and a genuinely eye-opening insight into a dimension of the conflict that I knew nothing about beforehand.
Overall, I was rather impressed with Seven Years In Tibet by the end. It starts off in rather weak fashion, with a simplistic and often underwhelming adventure story, but it gets into its stride in the latter stages, with a riveting, moving and elegant focus on Tibet, its culture and its history, as well as an ever-enthralling personal story that ties in brilliantly, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.6.