So many things could have gone wrong with a documentary about the Buddha’s life – and it is so difficult to get it right too (viz. Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha“) – that you cannot but applaud David Grubin’s fine film.
Personally, what I enjoyed the most was the music. It conveyed a mood that is just right for understanding some of the core elements of Buddhism – equanimity, compassion, kindness. There were many well-chosen snippets from eloquent but also very “real” and “present” speakers (my favourite, besides His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was Mark Epstein).
I liked some of the silences too – it wasn’t too packed with views and opinions – this vs. that – no shortage of things that can go wrong in that department.
For my personal aesthetic, I could have done with less of the mythology – the Buddha’s “miracles”, struggles with Mara and so on – but then where would Grubin have been with the visuals? It was good that these segments were in cartoon form – that device showed by its structure that the stories can (and in my opinion should) be taken allegorically.
I also liked the respectful context-setting: the religious and cultural backdrop of India at the time. That in itself could have taken 2 hours, but there was enough to show how revolutionary the Buddha’s teaching was.
Unfortunately, I missed significant chunks of the film such as the segment on the 4 Noble Truths (I trust Grubin wouldn’t have skipped that part!). In short, for the pieces that I saw: two thumbs up!