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Wheel of Time

4.2 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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(Oct 25, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Wheel of Time is acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog's (Grizzly Man, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo) gorgeously photographed look at the largest Buddhist ritual in Bodh Gaya, India. It is said that Buddha found enlightenment under a tree in Bodh Gaya and today, Buddhist monks are ordained in this holy place. Herzog magically captures the lengthy pilgrimage (which for some, is over 3,000 miles), the monk's creation of the beautiful and intricate sand mandala (the wheel of time) along with many secret rituals that have never been seen before on film. He delivers a personal and introspective look at what Buddhism really means to its most ardent followers, as well as giving outsiders an intimate look into a fascinating way of life.


As filmmaker and cultural anthropologist, Werner Herzog brings his unique powers of observation to Buddhist rituals in Wheel of Time. The documentary's title refers to the central symbol that forms the physical and spiritual hub of an intricately detailed sand mandala that is the centerpiece of the Kalachakra initiation, a Buddhist ceremony that attracts several hundred thousand monks and pilgrims to Bodh Gaya, India (the original site of the Buddha's enlightenment) in 2002. Through well-chosen images and his own sparse but effective narration, Herzog chronicles this spiritual conclave, incorporating brief interview clips with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, a lively debate between high-level monks at the gathering, an interview with a Tibetan political prisoner who'd spent 37 years in jail, and a visit to the sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet, where the faithful endure a high-altitude 52-kilometer trek to worship on holy ground. Having recovered from illness that prevented his full participation in the Bodh Gaya ceremony, the Dalai Lama appears at another Buddhist ceremony in Graz, Austria, where another sand mandala symbolizes the deep significance of Buddhist inner peace. Herzog's fascination with these rituals is infectious, and with a powerful soundtrack of Tibetan music and Buddhist monks' chanting, Wheel of Time achieves its own quiet quality of grace. --Jeff Shannon

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Product Details

  • Actors: The Dalai Lama, Lama Lhundup Woeser, Takna Jigme Sangpo, Matthieu Ricard, Madhureeta Anand
  • Directors: Werner Herzog
  • Writers: Werner Herzog
  • Producers: Werner Herzog, Andre Singer
  • Format: Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English, German, Tibetan
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Fox Lorber
  • DVD Release Date: October 25, 2005
  • Run Time: 80 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Domestic Shipping: Currently, item can be shipped only within the U.S. and to APO/FPO addresses. For APO/FPO shipments, please check with the manufacturer regarding warranty and support issues.
  • International Shipping: This item can be shipped to over 75 destinations outside of the U.S. Learn More
  • ASIN: B000AQ68Y6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,085 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Wheel of Time" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
In 2002 Werner Herzog went to India to observe the festival of Kalachakra, the ritual that takes place every few years to allow Tibetan Buddhist monks to become ordained. An estimated 500,000 Buddhists attended the initiation at Bodh Gaya, the land where the Buddha is believed to have gained enlightenment. The resulting documentary, Wheel of Time, is not a typical Herzog film about manic eccentrics at odds with nature but an often sublime look at an endangered culture whose very way of life is threatened. Herzog admits that he knows little about Buddhism and we do not learn very much about it in the film, yet as we observe the rituals, the celebrations, and the devotion of Tibetan Buddhists we learn much about the richness of their tradition and their strength as a people.

The festival, which lasts ten days, arose out of the desire to create a strong positive bond for inner peace among a large number of people. The monks begin with chants, music, and mantra recitation to bless the site so that it will be conducive for creating the sand mandala. The magnificently beautiful mandala, which signifies the wheel of time, is carefully constructed at the start of the festival using fourteen different tints of colored sand, then dismantled at the end to dramatize the impermanence of all things. Once built, it is kept in a glass case for the duration of the proceedings so that it will not be disturbed. The most striking aspect of the film are the scenes showing the devotion of the participants. Using two interpreters, Herzog interviews a monk who took three and one-half years to reach the festival while doing prostrations on the 3000-mile journey.
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1 Comment 37 of 39 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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I found this documentary frustrating for the reason that everyone else did: Herzog shows us stunning images of ritual and devotion, but he says little to nothing about what any of it means. He interviews, for example, someone who traveled to a holy ground over 3,000 miles over 3.5 years, lying face down on the ground in ritual prayer every few steps, but he does not ask the obvious question: Why'd you do it? What does this mean to you? Why is this so important?

Such omissions are so glaring that they could only be intentional. Herzog wants the images and sounds to do the talking. Or, more accurately, he just doesn't want the dark corners of human experience to be ruined by words.

I think to be able to appreciate (or even tolerate) this film, you've got to understand Herzog's take on this. Consider, for example, these quotes from a GQ interview:

"I think psychology and self-reflection is one of the major catastrophes of the twentieth century. A major, major mistake. And it's only one of the mistakes of the twentieth century, which makes me think that the twentieth century in its entirety was a mistake.

"The Spanish Inquisition had one goal, to eradicate all traces of Muslim faith on the soil of Spain, and hence you had to confess and proclaim the innermost deepest nature of your faith to the commission. And almost as a parallel event, explaining and scrutinizing the human soul, into all its niches and crooks and abysses and dark corners, is not doing good to humans.

"We have to have our dark corners and the unexplained. We will become uninhabitable in a way an apartment will become uninhabitable if you illuminate every single dark corner and under the table and wherever--you cannot live in a house like this anymore.
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Format: DVD
I like to watch most anything by the documentarian Werner Herzog, and Wheel of Time was no exception. This film finds him in Bodh Gaya, India, where tradition has it that the Buddha first found enlightenment 2,500 years ago under the bo tree. Every few years a half million Buddhist pilgrims travel to Bodh Gaya for a sacred rite convened by the Dalai Lama called the Kalachakra ("Wheel of Time"). The pilgrims come from near and far, many by foot, making prostrations the length of the body the entire trip. One monk from Tibet took three years to travel the 3,000 miles, genuflecting the entire way. Others will make 100,000 of these prostrations once they arrive, a rite that takes six weeks. Central to the series of religious activities is a "mandala" or sculpture made of colored sands that the monks craft from a large stencil. The intricate work of art is destroyed after the rites, the sand returned to the earth, a symbol that all is transitory. In one scene the pilgrims circumambulate the 25 mile base of Mount Kailash (22,000 feet). Wheel of Time has less narration than other Herzog documentaries, leaving you to wonder what some of the throngs of worshippers are doing. Herzog is also much more circumspect with his typical critique. But the combination of color, scenery, history, religion, culture, and language make this a very good if not great film.
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Format: DVD
Very well put together documentary. Some might think that it lacks commentary, but the absence of teacher like comments and explanations actually adds to the viewing. The focus of the documentary is Buddhism of the Tibetan tradition - very popular these days in many countries. One refreshing aspect of this documentary is its focus on ritual, often a part of Buddhism neglected by many in the 'west'. Overall, a well made presentation, informative and atmospheric: however, not a light production and one that demands a little concentration for full enjoyment.
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