Motifs In “Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom”

The film “Lunana” is beautiful because of its delicate and precise construction. Every shot is carefully thought-out with the meaning of the whole film in mind. Within the film, there are several motifs which also help to contribute to the meaning.

Singing is one such motif. In the first act of the film, so to speak, we witness Ugyen singing in English in a club in the city, after proclaiming that he was going to quit teaching and wants to leave the country to sing in Australia. Singing for him is somewhat of an escape from his work and home life, and is also a way in which he connects with other people. Ugyen also listens to music during the climb up the mountain, until his device runs out of battery. We next see singing while Ugyen makes his ascent to Lunana with his two guides, while they are making camp for the night. He asks them what they are singing about, and they explain to him that they are yak herders. I believe it is significant that this moment comes after Ugyen is forced to take off his headphones, and it could be argued that listening is part of the singing motif.

Singing/listening is also seen in the relationship between Ugyen and Saldon; in fact, the sound of Saldon singing is what caused Ugyen to seek her out in the first place. Furthermore, the interaction where Saldon teaches Ugyen the song she was singing is one of the most significant in their relationship. Asking why different people sing, and what the different kinds of listening are, will lead us to some of the more general thematic concerns of the film.

Another motif that the film explores is yaks, and more specifically, their dung. What I found most striking was the respect that the people of Lunana have for the yaks. I would go as far as to say that they have achieved mutual recognition with the yaks, while at the same time Ugyen is struggling to achieve something similar with the people. In conjunction with the motif of song, one of their most treasured songs was written about how a herder was forced to slaughter his most prized yak. The use of the dung to make fire, and the fact that Ugyen immediately starts collecting the dung with his bare hands, is also significant. I think that this motif leads us to themes concerning city life versus rural life, as well as animal and human relationships.

I am certain that there are many more motifs that could and should be explored further, and such exploration is encouraged by the clever approach taken by the filmmakers and writers.

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