Making the Grades
When Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) says goodbye to his pregnant wife and heads off to climb a mountain, he has no idea what will happen to him before he comes home again. Harrer, a real person who was a member of the German Nazi party, seems uninterested in the impending war, and is far more motivated to have his name in the record books for having conquered the Himalayan peak of Nanga Parbat. While their team attempts the climb, World War II breaks out. Harrer and his group fail the climb, turn back, and are promptly arrested as prisoners of war.
The indignant Harrer finally escapes the camp three years later and begins a long trek toward Tibet, a politically neutral country. He reluctantly ends up journeying with Peter (David Thewlis), another member of the original climbing team. Fortunately for both of them, the isolated and usually unaccepting Tibetans take pity on these starving Germans. Even more fortunate is the day the young Dalai Lama notices Harrer and decides to befriend him.
There are so many ways this story could be told, but similar to Ben Hur, the writers chose to show the influence of the Great One (in this case the Dalai Lama) on the insolent person through brief but revealing moments. This is a smart move, as little is known of the early life of the Dalai Lama and instead of over fictionalizing, we are shown how the peaceful philosophies of the Tibetans help Harrer to become less self centered as he grows to love and respect these people..
This is one PG-13 movie that has much to offer teens and parents. A few profanities in an early scene and near the end, the violent depiction of the Chinese infiltrating Tibet, are the main content concerns. Considering over one million Tibetans have perished since the beginning of Chinese rule, the few minutes of non-graphic violence is more than justified. After the movie is over, take the opportunity with your teens to learn more of Tibet and its amazing (and unfortunate) history.