Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint
Cinematography, History, Not Much More

The story of the great Tibetan Yogi, Milarepa, has been passed down for the past millennium. The basics of the story are that Milarepa’s father dies, leaving both his son and his wife prematurely. Unfortunately, Milarepa’s father entrusted his estate to his brotheruntil his son Thopaga (AKA Milarepa) should come of age. Tragically, though not surprisingly, Milarepa’s uncle squanders the entire inheritance, all the while treating Milarepa, his mother, and his younger sister with contempt, disrespect, and violence.

Soon Milarepa’s mother hatches a scheme of revenge, selling all she has in order for her son to train under the master sorcerer Yongten Trogyal—in order for Milarepa to become a sorcerer himself and wreak revenge on the cruel in-laws.

Jamyang Lodro as Thopaga

Milarepa does become a master of the black arts, and, with the help of demons, crushes his uncle’s home and many neighbors (including children) as a result. The villagers attempt to catch him, but possessing the ability to cause avalanches, Milarepa outruns the mob. Though his mother is happy with the results, Milarepa leaves, hiding in a Buddhist temple, where he confesses to an elder monk that his “enemies are endless.” The old monk’s reply? “Enemies arise in your own mind; to conquer them, cease negative action, cultivate positive ones, and tame your mind.”

But, apparently in this movie, his murderous actions cannot be forgotten, and he is left with nightmares and unmatchable grief.

Milarepa is easily divided into thirds: the death of Milarepa’s father; his work with the sorcerer; and the guilt he carries into seclusion at the temple—thus the titular “Magician, Murderer, Saint.”

As far as the film goes, the most stunning part is the cinematography. Angles, lighting, and long (but not of Malick proportions) shots of landscapes offer pacing that is a bit on the slow side for my taste. The acting is particularly bland (the film is directed by a monk, after all), although the subtitles may have distracted me (the dialogue is spoken in Tibetan).

But the greatest achievement is bringing to life a millennium-old Tibetan tale which teaches that revenge is never one-sided—both parties are harmed, as seen in Milarepa, whose guilt over “the futility of revenge” will accompany him for the rest of his life.

Or at least until part two of Milarepa’s tale is told, projected for a 2009 release.

Milarepa is rated for PG for “for some violence/disturbing images and thematic elements.” That’s fair—kind of like a cross between Bambi and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, only live-action and about real people. But I can’t see many kids going unless a teacher has offered extra credit.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jenn attended a press screening of Milarepa.