Time-images in Khyentse Norbu's "Travellers and Magicians" (2003) : the possibility of critical Buddhist cinema

22 Nov 2011

Like many other critical Third World films, Khyentse Norbu’s "Travellers and Magicians" (2003) is orientated less around meeting Hollywood entertainment standards, and more around a neorealist reflection upon the socio-cultural and politico-economic changes that have occurred, within traditional society, as a consequence of globalisation. In this regard, "Travellers and Magicians" takes as its focal point the confrontation between traditional Bhutanese culture and modernity. However, not only is the neorealist relationship between Khyentse Norbu’s film and other similarly orientated Third World films obscured by the exclusive evaluation of the former against standard Hollywood fare. In addition, such an evaluative approach also eclipses the manner in which "Travellers and Magicians" advances beyond its Third World counterparts, through its creative elaboration upon the neorealist formula, via the inclusion of a series of complex time-images within its narrative. Indeed, through this, Khyentse Norbu’s film does more than simply reflect critically upon the changes currently taking place within traditional Bhutanese society as a result of globalisation. That is, via its thematization of the actual-virtual processes through which subjectivity is constituted, in relation to both simple stories and the multi-dimensional mass media, "Travellers and Magicians" also opens up the possibility of critical Buddhist cinema. In other words, cinema which serves a critical social function, through its representation of subjectivity as a media construct that can be de-constructed, as it were, via both a growing sensitivity to the subtle processes of such construction, and a corresponding diminishment of the compulsion to unwittingly submit to them. In effect, this article is orientated around drawing such features of Khyentse Norbu’s film into conspicuousness, in the interest of considering the (Buddhist) cinematic possibilities that it thereby opens up.