Dharma Flick Reviews

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Implicit Dharma:  Blade Runner

In what is widely viewed as one of the greatest filmmaking achievements of all time, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner enters the Dharma Flicks ranks as an unlikely contender.  How, might you ask, does the stoic Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) impart onto us, intrepid Dharma students, any notion of the Buddha’s teachings?   In the 2019 imagined by the film, a race of beings called “replicants” are androids built to resemble humans in every possible way and to act as laborers on “off planet” colonies.  The film begins when four malevolent replicants escape from their colony and land on earth in order to coerce their maker into extending their four year life span.  Enter Deckard, a preeminent replicant hunter or, Blade Runner.  It becomes Deckard’s job to apprehend the four fugitive replicants. So wherein lies the Dharma?  As noted by Lama Marut in his current newsletter, there is a movement afoot to unearth the real Buddhism; a Buddhism that is free from both historical influence and modern reinterpretation.  What Lama Marut points out is that the “real” Buddhism is the Dharma passed from a Guru to a student.  Though Deckard’s search for the four replicants might be aided by certain objective facts, it is not without it’s complexity.  Like the student who must look within to find his or her Guru to discern the truth of that Guru’s teachings, Deckard too must resolve the lingering question: Is he too a replicant?  A mere simulacrum; a copy that has no original.

Explicit Dharma: Words of My Perfect Teacher

From the streets of London and New York to the World Cup in Germany to the mystical mountain kingdom of Bhutan, Words of My Perfect Teacher follows three students on a quest for enlightenment. These students are ready to be taught the path except that they have no idea that their very teacher may seem the greatest obstacle. Dzongsar Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche may be one of the world’s most eminent Buddhist teachers, but it’s a job description he seems to reject at every turn. A citizen of the world and as fascinated by soccer and filmmaking, Dzongsar Khyentse constantly confounds all attempts at easy categorization.

Taking its title from the writings of 13th-century Tibetan Lama Patrul Rinpoche, the film’s point of view is inspired by Buddhist wisdom.  The mind is the starting point of all suffering and the source of closed hearts and entrenched views. Dzongsar Khyentse teaches by defying easy definition, forcing his students to turn inward and confront their own expectations and desires.

When filmmaker Lesley Ann Patten informed Dzongsar Khyentse that she wished to make a film about him, he performed a “mo” or spiritual divination, to predict the outcome. The result he reported: “barely enough grass to feed a goat for half a day.” Patten sets out to make a film about her teacher, but he quickly turns the tables on her, and the film becomes part of the filmmaker’s own quest for spiritual growth. Words of My Perfect Teacher lets us share this quest as we accompany Patten on a delightful and intimate adventure.

Explicit Dharma: A Zen Life – D.T. Suzuki

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870–1966) was one of the 20th century’s most important writers and thinkers. During his long and extraordinarily fruitful life Suzuki became a preeminent voice of Japanese Zen Buddhism. He traveled and lectured widely. His impact on religious, artistic and philosophical thinking  continues to this day. Figures of the 20th century who acknowledged Suzuki’s impact on their work and thought include Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Martin Heidegger, Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, John Cage, and Alan Watts. A Zen Life is the first documentary film to present the extraordinary life of D.T. Suzuki. This vivid portrait of the man and his times includes rare footage of Suzuki himself and reminiscences by many whose lives and thinking he influenced, including poet Gary Snyder, religious philosopher Huston Smith, author Donald Richie, psychiatrist Albert Stunkard, and Suzuki’s long-time assistant Mihoko Okamura and many others.

Implicit Dharma: Memento

In Chris Nolan’s 2000 break out feature, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), is an ex-insurance investigator who is caught in a trying conundrum. While, on the one hand, he must compile clues in order to solve the murder of his wife, he is, on the other hand, stricken with a type of amnesia that leaves him unable to form new memories. Sound like a major obstacle to inductive reasoning?  It is. In desperate attempts to wrest the truth from his reality, Leonard begins take polaroids and to write notes to himself across his body. These clues slowly start to begin to paint a picture of what might have happened in Leonard’s mysterious past. The brilliant complexities that weave through the story are far too numerous to recount but what strikes the heart of the dharma student is how much we all toil in our own states of amnesia.  HH the Dalai Lama recently commented that, “Discipline is the capacity to do what is in one’s own best interest”.  How often it seems that when confronted by a choice we lack the means to choose and option that is truly in our own, long term best interest.  Once you see Leonard’s struggle in the brilliant tale of Momento, the effort to act according to what is best might at some point always come without and difficulty at all.

–Contributed by Michael Parry

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