In a budding Beliefnet tradition, we're celebrating Oscar season by talking with five religious thinkers (listed at right) about each of this year's Best Picture nominees. Beliefnet's Anne Simpkinson talked recently with Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das about "Gosford Park."

Lama Surya DasSet in England in 1932, "Gosford Park" is a sumptuously shot, cleverly written murder mystery that focuses more on manners than on murder. As Sir William McCordle's guests--and their servants--gather for a weekend of pheasant shooting, it becomes apparent that the lord of the manor has exploited or is exploiting many of his guests and servants--financially or sexually. Almost everyone on the grounds would like to see him dead. Eventually, they do. Spoiler note: If you haven't seen the movie, you won't learn the ending here. But if you want no hints at all, come back after you've been to the theater.

One of the spiritual themes of the movie is karma.
Well, as Buddhists say, "Everything is karma." So it's no surprise that a murder mystery would have something to do with that.

"Gosford Park" is not just a who-done-it, with a trail to the clues, Sherlock Holmes-style. It's about the karmic weave of what these people have in common, what the linchpins of their being together are. In this case, it's the owner of the house, Sir William McCordle.

I thought it was really interesting the way it emerged that his "sins," his karma, came back to get him. It's not only what goes around comes around. All these people came to play their part. It's like Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," where Hercule Poirot is trying to find out which of 12 people did it. You find out they all participated. That's the karmic thing; everybody has their piece in the karmic puzzle reaching back into the past.

In this case, the crucial line for me was when Jane Wilson, the head housekeeper says, "I'm the perfect servant. I know what they want before they know it themselves."

She was the great anticipator.
It wasn't just that she could anticipate what her employer wanted, before he wanted it, but she knew what her son would do even though she never saw him during his lifetime.

Buddhism is a religion of non-violence. Does the fact that the murderer will probably never be brought to justice, bother you as a Buddhist?
It's only a movie so I didn't get involved in the ethics of it that much. If it happened in real life, I might think about it a little differently. But no, I think that they each suffered in their own way and will suffer in one way or another, so it doesn't bother me.

Karma works backwards as well as forwards. The Buddha said when he got enlightened, his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, going back seven generations, got some of the merits, benefits, and blessings. In this case, the karmic price was paid through lives of bitterness and vengeance. And, in a way, the penalty of the crime is the loss of any relationship they could possibly have.

Did you see any other spiritual themes in the movie?
I didn't think it was such a spiritual movie. I thought it was a movie about human relationships. There was a lot about the lack of character of a certain part of that generation of aristocrats. It would be hard for me to find the spiritual heart of the movie.

But I did love the spirit of the movie and the characters. There were many characters and they were very spirited--the drunken butler, the Countess with her supercilious prejudices, her biting comments. There was some nice repartee. I really liked that.

Speaking of the heart of the movie, in one scene a guest, who's in the kitchen, asks a maid, "Why do some people have all the luck, and some have none at all?" She responds with a brief but beautiful soliloquoy, the essence of which is: "I believe in love."
That was really nice, and it wasn't done heavy handedly. The temptation for a writer is to make all the aristocrats venal and materialistic and the poor servants all brotherly and Christ-like. But that scene had a bit of good fiber in it.

The characters are well drawn; they each have very different personalities. And so we care about them, and know them. I thought that was the spirit and the heart of the movie--that they had real relations.

For me that is what's spiritual about literature or movies, real relationships.

It does turn out that there were certain connections in the movie. I was thinking about the Countess and her maid, who seemed to connect by the end of the movie.
Loyalty was part of the connecting--the servants' love of the upper class in the form of loyalty.

There was also a camaraderie, and locker room-like jocularity, a teasing among the house staff. When someone came from outside who didn't belong, they united against him. But the only way Sir William could relate to the servants--really, to everyone--was by taking advantage of them. It was his M.O., his way of relating.

If I'm going to talk about movies, I have to clue you into my rating system. I give Gosford Park two Z's because I only fell asleep briefly twice.

I thought this was a lousy year for movies. I really liked "In the Bedroom" and thought "A Beautiful Mind" was a good movie. But I slept through most of Harry Potter--to my nephew's amazement.

I was also surprised that "Moulin Rouge" was nominated. I went to see it because there was so much talk about it. I think Nicole Kidman did a good job acting but I don't think she should get best actress. I don't think it was an Oscar worthy movie--maybe for costumes, music, lighting, but not best picture. I would give "Moulin Rouge" three or four z's.

If you had to rate Gosford Park in terms of spiritual content, what would you rate it?
I don't know; I hate to put anything down. It was a good movie but I probably would rate "In the Bedroom" above it.

What makes "In the Bedroom" more spiritual?
The parents in "In the Bedroom"--the Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson characters-were real people, who had real relationships, who cared about real things, had real values. And even if he takes vengeance into his own hands, John-Wayne style, he was a loving parent, he cared about people; they had real friends.

But it's not the most spiritual movie I've ever seen. There are other movies I would rate more spiritual. "Ground Hog Day" was funny in a Buddhist sense. The theme was that life is a joke and you have to keep being reborn until you get it.

"Breaking the Waves" was very spiritual but it did not come out this year. Bagger Vance wasn't that great a movie but it was very spiritual. It's really hard to make a spiritual movie, but there have been some good efforts. The "Little Buddha" is a spiritual movie and it's great to watch with kids.

"Amelie" [a nominee in the foreign film category] was a spiritual movie because it was all about the title character's wish to do a good deed, and how she found love through selflessness and altruism--however naïve or silly she might have been.

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