’s Little Buddha is broken into two parts: a modern day fable
about a Buddhist monk
in search of his reincarnate
d teacher and the story of Siddhartha
. Using the present day tale, Bertolucci highlights Buddhism’s journey of enlightenment
Dean Conrad, the father of one of the children who could possibly be the reincarnated monk, is very noticeably spiritually empty at the beginning of the film. He is an engineer who is made complete by building skyscrapers. His home is very modern and with out much personal touch.
Bertolucci films this first part of the movie, when Conrad is without spirit (in fact not even being aware he is without spirit); and the scenes are void of almost any color. It seems that Bertolucci did this to highlight the hollowness of the characters existence. Slowly over time, and especially after arriving in Bhutan, color fills the screen. Color in the later scenes as Conrad takes in the new culture becomes almost overwhelming.
This follows Buddhism’s idea of a necessary journey. Without the journey, there can be no true enlightenment. As Conrad and his son listen to the story of the Buddha and his spiritual battles and slow enlightenment, from stoic to follower of the “middle path”, Conrad and his son Jesse fill themselves with this knowledge and find compassion in themselves, where they didn’t know they had any. If a soul is a lake or an ocean, full of spirituality, in the beginning of the film, Conrad’s soul is simply a puddle. Living away from his wife and with out extravagance, Conrad finds himself; and this awakening is as important to the story as the search for the reincarnated Llama.
Conrad’s story parallels Siddhartha’s journey. Siddhartha is without empathy, because he does not know evil, death or disease. It takes a bold step outside the gates of his home – just as Conrad does in his trip out of Seattle – to make him enlightened. In this sense, the journey itself in both cases is more important that what the principal for leaving was or what was learned by either man. In that way both stories show Buddhism as the journey not the way.