Monday, January 16, 2017

The River of No Return

This first time I saw Siddhartha (1972), I was in high school. I saw it with my high-school sweetie, a serious yet artistic young woman who shared with me an interest in Eastern mysticism (and hippie intellectual pretension - can't forget that). I remember it as being beautiful, sensuous, and rather silly. Although the sexy scenes did get our young blood pumping, and we found the cinematography and music lovely, we didn't feel like it was really deep, man. I kind of remember feeling sheepish for having enjoyed it.

I've had it on my Netflix queue for quite awhile, with Very Long Wait status. This week Netflix decided to serve it up, and I found myself actually eager to watch. In the end, I have to agree with my teen-aged self: It is beautiful and silly, and I sheepishly enjoyed it.

Siddhartha stars Shashi Kapoor as in the title role. He is a young Brahman man, living with his father at the time of the Buddha. He is bored with the quiet life, seeing his father go down to bathe in thr River Ganges everyday. He wants excitement, adventure - he wants to renounce all worldly possessions and go live with the wandering sadhus. Now, as a teenager, I guess I had no problem with this, but now it seems like renunciation isn't the obvious dream of most teen boys.

But then we see the sadhus hitting on the old ganja pipe and it all makes sense. (Remember, "ganja" is etymologically related to "Ganges". It's all connected.)

Siddhartha and his friend Govinda meet the Buddha, and Govinda takes the robe to follow him. But Siddhartha wants to follow his own path with no teacher, no master but himself. He decides to move to the town and tarry with a lovely courtesan, Simi Garewal. This big-eyed lovely introduces him to a merchant and gets him started on a life of business success and luxury, with some sweet loving inbetween.

Older and wiser, Siddhartha leaves his wealth behind to become an apprentice ferryman. The river carries everything to him, including the beautiful Simi and the son he never knew about. She has begun to follow the Buddha, and gets to see Siddhartha one last time, dying in his arms from a snakebite. It is a touching and, well, silly scene.

And so, life and the river flow on. A major theme is that the river returns everything to you, which is crazy - rivers are noted for going only one way, except maybe tidal estuaries. But I suppose that comes from the source novel by Hermann Hesse. There's a lot of the novel in this I think - at least I assume that's the reason that such a visual movie is so talky. At one point near the end, ferryman Siddhartha says, "I can love without speaking," and Ms. Spenser and I broke out laughing. You can't do anything without speaking, dude! You are the talkiest monk we've ever heard.

So, the mystic content of this movie is not flawless. The visual content, lensed by the great Sven Nyquist, is. The music, by Hemant Kumar, is also lovely, and I speak as one who does not particularly like the flute. So I am going to recommend this movie, if you don't take it too seriously.

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