Little Buddha

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Little Buddha
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBernardo Bertolucci
Screenplay byRudy Wurlitzer
Mark Peploe
Story byBernardo Bertolucci
Produced byJeremy Thomas
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Edited byPietro Scalia
Music byRyuichi Sakamoto
Distributed byPenta Distribuzione (Italy)[2]
AMLF (France)
Buena Vista International (United Kingdom)
Release date
  • 1 December 1993 (1993-12-01) (France)
Running time
140 minutes
United Kingdom
Budget$35 million[citation needed][inconsistent]
Box office$48 million[3]

Little Buddha is a 1993 drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, written by Rudy Wurlitzer and Mark Peploe, and produced by usual Bertolucci collaborator Jeremy Thomas. An international co-production of Italy, France and the United Kingdom, the film stars Chris Isaak, Bridget Fonda and Keanu Reeves as Prince Siddhartha (the Buddha before his enlightenment).


Tibetan Buddhist monks from a monastery in Bhutan, (Rinpung Dzong), led by Lama Norbu, are searching for a child who is the rebirth of a great Buddhist teacher, Lama Dorje. Lama Norbu and his fellow monks believe they have found a candidate for the child in whom Lama Dorje is reborn: an American boy named Jesse Conrad, the young son of an architect and a teacher who live in Seattle. The monks come to Seattle in order to meet the boy.

Jesse is fascinated with the monks and their way of life, but his parents, Dean and Lisa, are wary, and that wariness turns into near-hostility when Norbu announces that he wants to take Jesse back with him to Bhutan to be tested. Dean changes his mind, however, when one of his close friends and colleagues commits suicide because he went broke. Dean then decides to travel to Bhutan with Jesse. In Nepal, two children who are also candidates for the rebirth are encountered, Raju and Gita.

Gradually, over the course of the movie, first Jesse's mother and then Lama Norbu tell the life story of Prince Siddhartha, reading from a book that Lama Norbu has given to Jesse.

In ancient Nepal (Lumbini), a prince called Siddhartha turns his back on his comfortable and protected life, and sets out on a journey to solve the problem of universal suffering. As he progresses, he learns profound truths about the nature of life, consciousness, and reality. Ultimately, he battles Mara (a demon representing the ego), who repeatedly tries to divert and destroy Siddhartha. Through the final complete realization of the illusory nature of his own ego, Siddhartha attains enlightenment and becomes the Buddha.

In the final scenes of the movie, it is found that all three children are rebirths of Lama Dorje, separate manifestations of his body (Raju), speech (Gita), and mind (Jesse). A ceremony is held and Jesse's father also learns some of the essential truths of Buddhism. His work finished, Lama Norbu enters a deep state of meditation and dies. As the funeral ceremony begins, Lama Norbu speaks to the children, seemingly from a higher plane, telling them to have compassion; and just before the credits roll the children are seen distributing his ashes.

At the very end of the film credits, the sand mandala that was seen being constructed during the movie is destroyed, "with one swift stroke."




Three Tibetan incarnate high lamas, also known as tulkus or rinpoche, have roles in the film. "I wanted the real thing," said Bertolucci. The Venerable Khyongla Rato Rinpoche plays the part of the Abbot of the monastery in Bhutan. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche appears near the end of the film, when Lama Norbu is shown meditating overnight, and as a consultant, supervised every gesture and ritual performed by Tibetan monks. Sogyal Rinpoche appears in the earlier segments in the role of Khenpo Tenzin.[4][5] In a later documentary about Khyentse Rinpoche entitled Words of my Perfect Teacher, his role in the film is discussed along with a short interview with Bertolucci.


The Buddha flashback scenes of Little Buddha were photographed in 65 mm Todd-AO by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The rest of the film was filmed in 35 mm anamorphic Technovision.

Jeremy Thomas later remembered making the film:

It was an interest in the story of Siddhartha, and what Tibetan Buddhism meant in Western society after the expulsion from Tibet. It was a very ambitious film, and largely shot in Kathmandu and Bhutan on location. And Bhutan, it was a joy to film in Bhutan ... But like many things when you look back of course, trying to promote a film about Buddhism as an epic is maybe a tall order.[6]

Thomas formed a bond with the Bhutanese Tibetan Buddhist Lama Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche who was an advisor on the film, and went on to help him make several other films such as The Cup (1999) and Travelers and Magicians (2003).[6]

In addition to Kathmandu, another prominent Nepalese location used in the film was the city of Bhaktapur.[7]


Little Buddha
Soundtrack album by
Released6 April 1994 (Japan)
14 June 1994 (International)
LabelFor Life Records (Japan)
Milan Records (International)
ProducerRyuichi Sakamoto
Ryuichi Sakamoto chronology
Little Buddha
Sweet Revenge

The soundtrack for the film was entirely composed by Japanese pianist/composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Track listing
  1. "Main Theme" 2:50
  2. "Opening Titles" 1:47
  3. "The First Meeting" 1:50
  4. "Raga Kirvani" 1:28
  5. "Nepalese Caravan" 3:01
  6. "Victory" 1:45
  7. "Faraway Song" 3:18
  8. "Red Dust" 4:38
  9. "River Ashes" 2:25
  10. "Exodus" 2:33
  11. "Evan's Funeral" 4:28
  12. "The Middle Way" 1:50
  13. "Raga Naiki Kanhra / The Trial" 5:25
  14. "Enlightenment" 4:28
  15. "The Reincarnation" 1:52
  16. "Gompa - Heart Sutra" 2:38
  17. "Acceptance - End Credits" 8:57


The film had its world premiere in France on 1 December 1993, opening on 187 screens.[1]


Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed to positive reviews, as it currently holds a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews. The consensus summarizes: "Little Buddha's storytelling may be too childlike to best service its audacious plot, but Bernardo Bertolucci's direction and Vittorio Storaro's cinematography conspire to deliver a visually strong epic."

Roger Ebert gave the film only two stars, and called it "a slow-moving and pointless exercise by Bertolucci, whose The Last Emperor was a much superior telling of a similar story about a child who is chosen for great things."[8]

Desson Howe of The Washington Post called the film "beguiling [and] unpretentious", adding that "Bertolucci intermixes high art with childlike wonder, blatant special effects with tacit spirituality."[9]

Wrote Janet Maslin in The New York Times:

"Little Buddha," a crazily mesmerizing pop artifact that ranks alongside Herman Hesse's novel "Siddhartha" in terms of extreme earnestness and quasi-religious entertainment value, finds Mr. Bertolucci working in an uncharacteristic vein. For all its obvious seriousness, Little Buddha has a naive, miracle-gazing intensity that turns it into Mr. Bertolucci's first Spielberg movie, complete with awestruck faces and intimations of higher knowledge. This is also the film maker's first close encounter with visual tricks like morphing, which makes for religious experience of another kind.[10]

Box office[edit]

The film was very successful in France, where it was the 19th highest-grossing film of the year, with 1,359,483 admissions.[11] In its opening week in France, it sold 308,660 tickets for a gross of $1.52 million.[12][13] The film, against competition from such films as The Flintstones and Maverick, opened at number nine at the US box office.[14] It dropped out of the top ten the next week, closing on June 16, 1994 at number 13, with a total of $4.8 million. It grossed $48 million worldwide[3] against its $30 million budget.[citation needed][inconsistent]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for one Razzie Award, Worst New Star for Chris Isaak.

Year-end lists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Groves, Don (13 December 1993). "'Buddha,' 'Addams' OK in debuts". Variety. p. 16.
  2. ^ "Little Buddha (1993)". UniFrance. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Top 100 grossers worldwide, '93-94". Variety. October 17, 1994. p. M-56.
  4. ^ Barasch, Douglas S. (May 22, 1994). "FILM; Bertolucci Tells A Tale Of Buddha". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  5. ^ Tworkov, Helen (Summer 1993). "Projecting The Buddha". Tricycle. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b Thomas, Jeremy; Lieberson, Sanford (2006-04-11). ""At the Cutting Edge" – Producer Jeremy Thomas, interviewed by producer Sandy Lieberson". Berlinale Talent Campus. Archived from the original on 2010-05-24. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
  7. ^ "Bhaktapur". Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 25, 1994). "Little Buddha". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on October 7, 1999. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  9. ^ "Little Buddha". Washington Post. 1994-05-25. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (1994-05-25). "All-American Boy Who May Be a Buddha". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  11. ^ JP. "Little Buddha (1993)- JPBox-Office". Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  12. ^ Groves, Don (20 December 1993). "'Aladdin' isn't sharing B.O. wealth". Variety. p. 16.
  13. ^ "France welcomes the Buddha". Screen International. 10 December 1993. p. 27.
  14. ^ Fox, David J. (1994-06-01). "Memorial Day Weekend Box Office : A Mighty Big Take at the Cash Register". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
  15. ^ Howe, Desson (December 30, 1994), "The Envelope Please: Reel Winners and Losers of 1994", The Washington Post, retrieved July 19, 2020
  16. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 27, 1994). "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; The Good, Bad and In-Between In a Year of Surprises on Film". The New York Times. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  17. ^ Pickle, Betsy (December 30, 1994). "Searching for the Top 10... Whenever They May Be". Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 3.
  18. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.

External links[edit]