Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) and his expecting wife Ingrid are on their way to the train station, for Harrer's departure for an expedition in the Himalayas. They begin climbing the mountain as soon as the entire party has arrived. After an avalanche, however, they decide to go back to the base camp, in spite of Harrer's resolve to reach the top. Making it back, they hear that Britain has declared war on Germany. Being Austrians with German citizenship, they are arrested by the British Indian authorities and taken to a prison camp. Ingrid sends Harrer divorce papers. After several attempts, a number of prisoners manage to escape. They each go their separate ways and Harrer heads for the Himalayas.
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Aufschnaiter, the leader of the unsuccessful expedition, later joins Harrer and they cross the border into Tibet. They are captured by men on horseback and told foreigners are banned from Tibet. The horsemen take them back to India, but they escape. Harrer and Aufschnaiter join pilgrims making their way to Lhasa, hiding their identity.
The foreigners are spotted through a telescope by the young Dalai Lama from a nearby palace. The Dalai Lama's mother informs Harrer on manners when meeting with the Dalai Lama. At the request of the latter, Harrer teaches him geography and Western customs.
When Harrer and Afschnaiter are at a party, they hear a Chinese announcer on the radio who states they will invade and occupy Tibet. The night after, the Dalai Lama has a visionary dream of Chinese violence and monasteries being burnt to the ground.
Chinese generals go to Lhasa to see the Dalai Lama, but they treat him with contempt. The Dalai Lama sends Tibetan regent Jigme to lead the Tibetan army at the border to halt a Chinese advance, but Jigme surrenders and blows up the Tibetan ammunitions depot, after a battle in which large numbers of Tibetans are killed by better armed and trained Chinese troops. When a treaty is signed in Lhasa, Harrer learns that if Jigme had not destroyed the weapons supply, Tibetan soldiers could have secured the mountain passes long enough to make an international appeal for help.
The Dalai Lama, fifteen years old, is instated as the spiritual leader of Tibet. Harrer pays him a last visit and prays with him. Harrer bids Aufschnaiter farewell and returns to Austria in 1951. The film ends with a statement about the death and destruction caused by the Chinese occupation. Harrer kept in touch with the Dalai Lama until his death.
Best part of story, including ending:
It tells the story of the violence against and occupation of Tibet, next to the story of the main character.
Best scene in story:
Where he is introduced to the Dalai Lama and tutors him.
Opinion about the main character:
His exploratory nature, resolve and perseverance.