06
Sep
11

Review: Cry of the Snow Lion

“The homeland here is not so much a territorial or topographic entity as a moral destination. And the collective, idealized return to the homeland is not a mere matter of traveling. The real return can come only at the culmination of the trials and tribulations in exile.” (Malkki 1999: 67)

A child in a Tibetan Children’s Village in India (http://philosophy.fortlewis.edu/travel.html Jennifer Kiels, 2008)

 

I was particularly struck by this passage from Liisa Malkki’s “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees” while watching Cry of the Snow Lion. It describes what seems to be the intent of the film: to emphasize to a Western audience that the native Tibetans deserve to live in and control their homeland (in part) due to the suffering that they have undergone. The film describes and illustrates quite graphically the trials and tribulations that many of the Tibetans have suffered leading up to and during their exile. The rather bloody riot footage was interspersed with spectacular views of Tibetan scenery as well as snippets of religious ceremonies, which served to emphasize the horrific nature of the violence. This contrast between the peaceful and the violent was appropriate, though I felt it overly dramatized when it was prefaced with interviews with members of older generations about how serene and perfect Tibet had been in their childhoods. Also, for me at least, the narration by Martin Sheen gave the film an overdramatic quality that seemed to trivialize some of the sufferings of the Tibetans.

The film also agrees with Malkki on the fact that Tibetis a “moral destination” and much more than just a territory. There exists a government-in-exile in Indiawhich, among other things, operates Tibetan Children’s Villages. These are schools where children of Tibetan exiles can come to learn Tibetan language and culture. This way, the knowledge of the culture won’t be lost when they (eventually) return to their homeland. This demonstrates that the physical land that comprises Tibetis much more than just the land. If there was not some sort of “root” (as Malkki describes) that connected the Tibetans to that particular area of the world, then there would not be the fervent desire to return. Their government exists relatively intact and there are centers of cultural instruction not all that far away from Tibet. However, as Malkki emphasizes, there is a moral pull of the native country and furthermore, Cry of the Snow Lion attempts to pass this moral pull onto a Western audience. Through both the violent and the peaceful imagery, it attempts to convince its Western audience that the Tibetans in exile deserve to be returned to their homeland as well as deserve to have political control over it.

The conclusion of Malkki’s article left me wondering how the filmmakers would respond to it. She claims, “To plot only ‘places of birth’ and degrees of nativeness is to blind oneself to the multiplicity of attachments that people form to places through living in, remembering, and imagining them.” (Malkki 1999: 72). These next generations of Tibetans that are being educated in the Tibetan Children’s Villages (in exile) will only be able to think ofTibetin terms of their imagination; unlike previous generations, they won’t have memories of the way thatTibetwas in the past. Thus, they will have, as Malkki describes, attachments to wherever they were raised in exile, be itIndiaor somewhere else. The roots that bind a person to their heritage are “in a state of constant flux and change” (Malkki 1999: 71). Would the filmmakers agree with this statement that the roots of Tibetans may not be as firmly planted for the succeeding generations? Or would they, as the film seems to state, believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder?

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