Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A Look at Locational Decisions Made in Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

Throughout the film, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, the main character, teacher Ugyen Dorji often contemplates which setting he wants to be in, and which one is the most fulfilling for him. At the start of the movie, Dorji starts his story in a bustling city in Bhutan. One of the very first things we learn about our protagonist is that he is attempting to secure a visa to move to Australia. However, in Bhutan, you have to spend five years working for the government in order to maintain citizenship status and Dorji has only completed four years. He tells his governmental boss that he does not find joy in the profession of teaching and wishes to leave the country to pursue his dream of becoming a singer, another major theme found throughout the film. Instead of allowing him to leave, the secretary states he just finish his final year of service and, since he cannot seem to do his job in the city, has to teach in the most rural, isolated school in the world in the city of Lunana. Lunana is so remote that it takes several days of hiking to reach, and none of the kids there know what a car is. The community only really knows one another, no one else.

The entire lead-up and journey to Lunana is filled with discontent and complaining from Dorji. He is upset at having to leave his familiar city life, his friends, and his girlfriend. He is unfit for the hike to Lunana and disrespects customs and traditions he deems as strange, a possible (though not likely) nod to the concept of Orientalism. He feels on the outside of this society as well as feeling a sense of superiority to them. That is, until he meets the children he will be teaching and sees the lack of space and materials dedicated to their education. He starts to come around to the village, forming connections, and getting supplies to help enhance the school to the best of his ability. He truly begins to immerse himself in the culture, learning more every day about their routines, practices, songs, and most importantly, the connections they have with yaks. In the middle of his stay in Lunana, he learns that his visa to Australia has been approved and he is able to leave once his service year is finished.

The winter quickly approaches, and so are the last few days of Dorji’s stay in Lunana. When he learns he must soon leave, he is immediately distraught. He says that the children still need him and that there is so much he has not been able to teach them yet. Everyone in the village urges him to return the following year after the harsh winter has come to a close. He stays in Lunana for as long as possible until being told he must leave, or he will be stranded there. I truly believe that if he intended to return to Luanan he simply would have remained there through the winter. He wanted to teach and help for as long as possible, but he never intended to remain there, or even return. Once he left, that would be the last time they saw him.

The film ends with a scene of Dorji signing in a bar in Sydney, Australia. He has left everyone behind once again, but this time to follow his heart and attempt to actualize his lifelong dream. He does stop mid-song and sit in silence for a minute before singing a song taught to him in Lunana about the yaks and their significance. The film does not let the audience know if he ever did make his way back to the village of Lunana, which I think was the perfect way to end it. Either way, Dorji would have had regrets about his decision. It is important for him to see all of his aspirations through, which would make the return to Lunana that much more meaningful. If he left Australia for Lunana, it would show what an immense, life-changing impact that experience had for him that he was willing to leave his dreams for it. However, the opposite is also completely understandable. It would be uncharacteristic for him to sacrifice so much to return and teach in the village. I think that they needed one another to learn a lesson, but I am not entirely sure if I think he ever returned. Humans need to go on journeys and experience life in order to grow and learn what is bes for them, and every step he has taken, Dorji has done that.

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