© 2024 NPR Illinois
The Capital's Community & News Service
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'The Monk and The Gun' satirizes modernization and democracy in Bhutan

The movie poster for "The Monk and The Gun." (Courtesy of  Roadside Attractions)
The movie poster for "The Monk and The Gun." (Courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

“The Monk and The Gun,” a satirical film set in the rural mountains of Bhutan, centers on modernization and the arrival of democracy around 2006. A beloved king stepped down and offered up the system of democracy to replace him.

The entire film — written and directed by Oscar-nominated Pawo Choyning Dorji — is shot in Bhutan with Bhutanese performers, mostly first-time actors. The film opens with an elderly monk who, upon emerging from a long meditation, asks his assistant to get him two guns. The young assistant is baffled. He has never seen a gun. He wanders the village going door to door in the quest to find one.

At the same time, the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decides democracy is the best system of government. Without any internal strife, he abdicates to make room for elections. (This is the same king who initiated the Gross National Happiness Index to measure well-being in the country.)

Community organizers rally the villagers and try to teach them how to vote. All of this takes place shortly after the arrival of television.

“We were the very last country in the world to connect to television,” says Dorji. “The very last country in the world to connect to the internet, and one of the only countries in the world where democracy was introduced without the usual revolution or civil war … It was introduced in a peaceful transition.”

Watch on YouTube.

Dorji grew up in the 2000s during this time and draws much of the film from actual events. His father was a diplomat, and the filmmaker grew up both inside and outside Bhutan, also living in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. While this film centers on villagers in remote Bhutan, it speaks on many levels to America with reflections on gun culture and the significance of money.

“That I think put me in a very unique position,” he says.

One of Dorji’s most significant teachers has been Khyentse Norbu. He is both a filmmaker and a monk.

“I was living with him in his monastery studying Buddhism and being introduced to the world of filmmaking,” Dorji says “I had the good fortune of being able to learn both from him … Learning filmmaking from a Buddhist master is an amazing experience.”

Shirley Jahad produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jahad also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.