MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
You might think that you’ve seen this movie before.
A young student teacher is assigned to a small village to fulfill a course requirement. He is unsure about his career choice and more interested in pursuing a career as a musician, but he is obligated by the Ministry of Education to go where he is sent. When he arrives at his classroom, he discovers that it is underfunded without the basic supplies he needs to teach. And he has a classroom of children he needs to get to know. Maybe – just maybe – this year could change his life forever.
That’s the basic plot of Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.
And yet, this film from the country of Bhutan has qualities that we all need right now: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yes, this is the fruit of the Spirit that the apostle Paul speaks of in Galatians 5:22-23.
That’s pretty great coming from a country that is primarily Buddhist. Watching Lunana you learn a lot about Bhutan. It is a landlocked country located by the Himalayas, with villages separated by miles of rugged country. Education is considered the right of every child, so teachers are sent regularly to outposts to make sure that no child is denied basic learning. Bhutan has a national plan to increase happiness.
Ugyen (Dorji), the student teacher, is at first reluctant to embrace his job. Hiking many miles through beautiful mountain vistas, he has his headphones on listening to music. His cynicism and aloofness will first be broken down by the austerity of his surroundings. No Wi-Fi. No electricity. No plumbing. No blackboard. And he will meet Norbu, the yak in the classroom. Ugyen will be gently transformed by the kind villagers and a classroom filled with children eager to learn including Pem Zam, the class leader. He will also get to know a mystic yak herder who sings a distinctive song over and over. Slowly but surely, Ugyen will discover the joy of teaching and the love that can be found in real community.
Plot-wise, there are no surprises whatsoever. The enjoyment of Lunana comes from its journey of discovery. While the movie would be fine for children to watch – and has a lot of children in its cast (most of them actual highlanders who live in Lunana) – it is too slowly paced for kids to enjoy.
For an anxiety-ridden time such as this (or any time, actually), Lunana offers us an alternative world in which nice people do good things for one another in beautiful ways. The movie invites us to think about how we might choose to make our way through life. Lunana is one of the most inspirational films of this year and highly recommended.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A family film about the human family; a simple story that celebrates joy and happiness.
One pitchfork: For one scene of peeing and a few scenes of gathering yak poop.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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