“Milarepa” represents an unprecedented encounter between spiritual needs of the Western youth belonging to the generation born after WW2 (personified by Italian student interested in Eastern spirituality) and the teaching of greatest Tibetan mystic, yogi and Saint Milarepa. We follow the student and his professor from Roma to Tibet in their attempt to understand better Milarepa’s ideas and method and to revive and to repeat his own learning and teaching experiences.
We see that the first phase of studying/experiencing Milarepa’s spirituality – belief in wisdom, sacrifices inseparable from overcoming ego, training in meditation, developing of the feeling of mystical unity with the world, and gaining power over destructive energies of the universe – is, with all incredible difficulties it includes, is comparatively easy in comparison with what will follow.
The second phase is to learn humility despite the achieved power over life and death (freedom from life and death). Here it’s necessary to overcome not already regular human ego, self-centered, narcissistic, capricious, stubborn and lazy, but grand, self-aggrandized (megalomaniacal) self that has grown together with spiritual power to move energies by will and to preside over elements. It is this second phase, according to the film, takes almost all human life and includes overcoming the interest for using achieved power for vain purposes, gaining the ability to accept death – our own and those we love, and readiness to expose yourself to violence on part of other humans and nature without self-defense and wasteful sentimental dramatization.
At the end of the film Italian Milarepa (previous student of Milarepa’s teaching and method) returns to his country and walks among prosperity of urbanism as among rocks, hills and precipices of Tibet – Cavani combines through the cuts the images of urban civilization and Tibetan landscapes. Oh, no, it is not that while enjoying civilization the new Milarepa remembers his past studying and growing spiritually. Cavani suggests here that civilization as we know and enjoy it is as much empty and dangerous, and probably, more so, as primordial landscape was for ancient people. We have to spiritually cultivate urban wildness as Tibetan Milarepa did Tibetan nature.
In other words, what Eastern spirituality was able to do with mountains and abysses of the ancient world, the equivalent task must be undertaken with Western civilization. Our civilization living through history has got power over nature not by spiritual prowess like Milarepa, but by fragmented/splintered mind of technical science. It means that for us to develop the wisdom to control this power is almost impossible – we are not psychologically/spiritually equipped for such a task. If it took Milarepa whole life to balance his power over world’s energies, where do we’ll get time to develop qualification to control our technological megalomania?
Cavani puts in front of us, children of Western civilization, a new task – we must spiritually cultivate our civilization, violent, materialistic, greedy and hateful. And to achieve it much more difficult than it was with our human nature in ancient times – our civilization is much more corrupted by excesses of power and wealth.
Cavani uses spiritual phenomena like reincarnation, de-synchronization of time and instant overcoming of space as elements of her narrative.
Cavani’s “Milarepa”, no doubt, was an inspiration for Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha” (1993).