Placing Oliver Stone and Buddhist monks on the same plane of spiritual enlightenment, Refuge is mainly about Western self-absorption. Ostensibly a primer on how Buddhism has maintained a foothold on our shores since the ’60s, it turns out to be a facile recruiting film, stuffed with celebrity endorsements. Stone claims that he needs Buddhism to stay “balanced,” while Bernardo Bertolucci and Scorsese talk “soul” in the loosest of contexts. Nothing is said about the religion itself; only results are discussed, as in a TrimSpa commercial (lose weight and gain nirvana!). The drowsy narration continually refers to our “troubled times,” implying that Buddhism acts as an opiate. A sitting rebuke to this nonsense, the Dalai Lama answers banal questions from those who wield his way of life like a brand name with unflagging good humor (it’s a testament to his spiritual equilibrium that he doesn’t simply excommunicate them on the spot). Refuge is accompanied by a short interview, Talking With the Dalai Lama, which is less of a drag.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 2, 2006