nfb film of the month

by Chris Blank

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

1994, 90 min 38 sec

(from NFB): Narrated by acclaimed Canadian artist Leonard Cohen, this two-part series explores ancient teachings on death and dying and boldly visualizes the afterlife according to Tibetan philosophy. Program 1, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Way of Life documents the history of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, tracing the book's acceptance and use in Europe and North America. Included is remarkable footage of the rites and liturgies surrounding and following the death of a Ladakhi elder as well as the views of the Dalai Lama on life and death (45 min. 35 sec.). Program 2, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation observes an old Buddhist lama and a 13-year-old novice monk as they guide a deceased person into the afterlife. The passage of the soul is visualized with animation blended into actual location shooting (45 min. 3 sec.).

Leonard Cohen's narration, it must be said straight off, was perfect. No one else could have succeeded so brilliantly at calmly and richly presenting this series.

Part I was really well done all around as it presented the place of the Tibetan Book of the Dead within contemporary Tibetan society. A wonderful look at Tibetan culture. It was more of an overview of the text and was interesting whether you are familiar with the book or not.

Part II was boring, and the animation/lame music chewed. It tries to grapple with the more "spiritual" aspects, but comes up short. For instance, the "afterlife cam" that floats around the room documenting the animated journey beyond life is absolutely ridiculous. As well, Part II seemed very scripted and contrived, whereas Part I flowed naturally and no one appeared to be "acting."

back to cancontent