Little Buddha

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Little Buddha
Little buddha imp.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBernardo Bertolucci
Produced byJeremy Thomas
Screenplay byRudy Wurlitzer
Mark Peploe
Story byBernardo Bertolucci
Music byRyuichi Sakamoto
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Edited byPietro Scalia
Distributed byAMLF (France)
Buena Vista International (United Kingdom)
Miramax Films (United States)
Release date
1 December 1993
Running time
140 minutes
United Kingdom
Budget$35 million
Box office$4,858,139 (USA)

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, 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 Kapilvastu, Nepal, 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."


Themes and analysis[edit]

The color schemes used in the movie are red-orange for Eastern locations, and blue-gray for Western locations. Jesse and his father are first presented in the red-orange scheme during their plane flight to Bhutan.[original research?]

An unusual plot technique is later used through the final stages of the flashback sequences where the past gets merged with the present as the three children, Jesse, Raju and Gita find themselves actually in the scene with Prince Siddhartha, watching him as he is tempted by and overcomes egoic Mara.[original research?]



Three Tibetan incarnate lamas have roles in the film. Sogyal Rinpoche appears in the earlier segments in the role of Khenpo Tenzin. 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. Khyentse Rinpoche also served as a consultant to Bertolucci. 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.[1]

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).[1]

In addition to Kathmandu, another prominent Nepalese location used in the film was the city of Bhaktapur.[2]


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 received mixed to positive reviews, as it currently holds a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews.[3][4][5][6] It was nominated for one Razzie Award, Worst New Star for Chris Isaak. The film however was very successful in France, where it was the 19th highest-grossing film of the year, with 1,359,483 admissions sold.[7]

Year-end lists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "Bhaktapur". Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  3. ^ "Little Buddha". Chicago Sun Times. 1994-05-25. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  4. ^ "Little Buddha". Washington Post. 1994-05-25. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (1994-05-25). "All-American Boy Who May Be a Buddha". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ JP. "Little Buddha (1993)- JPBox-Office". Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  8. ^ Howe, Desson (December 30, 1994), "The Envelope Please: Reel Winners and Losers of 1994", The Washington Post, retrieved July 19, 2020
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Pickle, Betsy (December 30, 1994). "Searching for the Top 10... Whenever They May Be". Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 3.
  11. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.

External links[edit]