Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring

culture

I bunked off work early on Friday to watch a film. It's the first time I've done that for ages, and it was a delightful treat. I saw Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring — a beautiful film about a young Buddhist monk, growing up in the care of an old Master. The two live in a tiny monastery floating in the middle of a lake in a deep valley. The cinematography is stunning, and while very few dramatic events happen in the film, the details and the gentle pace really kept me enthralled in a way that few action movies do.

The film follows the life of the child monk as he grows and matures, with the major periods of his life symbolised by the turning of the seasons. In fact, the film is packed with symbolism, some of which I didn't entirely understand. Each season features a different animal, and stones, burdens and doorways are an important theme. The monastery is one small room, but has two internal doors, which just hang in space, rather than being flanked by walls. Yet most of the characters assiduously go through the doors, opening and closing them carefully, rather than just going around. I suspect that these have an important meaning in Buddhism, but I saw it as a metaphor for people's inability to avoid taking a certain path, even if it looks as if they could just step around it.

It's an incredibly moving film. Near the end of the film, the adult monk performs a pilgrimage of contrition by carrying a statue up a mountainside, while towing a millstone tied around his waist with a rope. I don't know why, but that scene had me in tears. It seemed such a good representation of the kinds of trials, setbacks and sorrows we all face in life, and which we have to overcome painfully.

I think that this film will stick in my mind for a long time. Like the lake on which the monastery floated, there was a lot of depth below the calm, reflective surface.

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