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March 31, 2023 - 

A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a bar. 

Normally, this is how a good joke starts. However, this setup is not for a joke, but the basis of a documentary about a unique friendship between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. Rather than a bar, they walk into a studio to talk about their deep and joyful friendship spanning decades. Numerous times during the film, they reach out to hold hands—laughing and teasing each other. Although different from each other in many ways, they describe their relationship as “mischievous spiritual brothers.”

The documentary consists of a sit-down conversation, interspersed with footage detailing the background and justice work of each leader (both have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). The consistent theme in both stories is joy amid suffering. There are two poignant scenes that highlight the spiritual maturity that has grown in the soil of such suffering.

The first is a communion scene. To participate in the sacrament, both must “break the rules.”  Desmond Tutu wrestles with the meaning of the sacrament and how far the invitation of Jesus can reach. The Dalai Lama is not allowed to drink wine. Watch the film to see how they resolve the tension to strengthen the bond of friendship by practicing humble hospitality.

The second is a visit to a school for refugee Tibetan children. In a room, where both leaders are sitting to meet some of the children, one small girl begins to cry as she talks about her difficult journey of being displaced, leaving behind family and friends. Both leaders sit in silence, compassionately witnessing this tender scene. Each has a different response to the girl, which gives a window into how their religious orientation has shaped them and what their leadership roles require of them.

One bonus scene worth watching is near the end—Desmond Tutu dancing with the Dalai Lama while thousands of Tibetan children sing the 1985 anthem “We are the World.” This joyful and extraordinary scene sums up the essence of the whole documentary—in a world caught in a perpetual cycle of violence and division, friendship marked by compassion and humility is the only way forward. (Netflix)

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