Director Martin Scorsese and screenplay writer Melissa Mathison present a sober and reverent portrait of the fourteenth Dalai Lama from his discovery in a small village in 1937 through his escape to India in 1959. In the opening section of the film, Tibetan monks give a two-year-old boy a series of tests. He proves to them that he is the fourteenth reincarnation of the Buddha of love and compassion. The boy is taken away to be trained by monks and scholars for his role as Tibet's spiritual and political leader.

When the boy his teachers call Kundun reaches the age of 15 in 1950, his homeland is invaded by the Chinese Army of Chairman Mao Zedong. This crisis leads officials in the Tibetan government to vest the Dalai Lama with temporal power in order to quell the fears of the populace. In a brief encounter with Mao, the young Tibetan leader recognizes that his society of spirit and nonviolence clashes with China's culture of materialism and militarism.

Kundun (which means "Ocean of Wisdom") contains some breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins and an impressive musical score by avant garde composer Philip Glass. This presentation of the childhood and adolescence of the fourteenth Dalai Lama is memorable mainly for its moral message about the courage it takes to adhere to the Buddhist principle of nonviolence in the face of so much suffering and injustice. The Dalai Lama is a true hero of peace.