Brad Pitt was once banned from China for one of his films. No, not Interview with the Vampire. He was not allowed to enter the country for a long time due to the biographical drama known as Seven Years in Tibet. This film was severely condemned by the People’s Republic of China, Pitt, David Thewlis, and the film’s director (Jean-Jacques Annaud) were barred from entering the country for over a decade. Seven Years in Tibet came out in 1997, and it was until 2012 that Annaud was welcomed back.
The reason behind the ban was because the film depicted the Communist Chinese soldiers as rude and arrogant, while they brutalized people in the village. This was when China was set to occupy Tibet. Also, the ban might have been because the Nazi party is heavily involved in the film, and that is about as controversial as one can get. Annaud was welcomed back to China in 2012, to sit on the chair of the jury for the 15th annual Shanghai Film Festival. Brad Pitt visited the country in 2014 and 2016. Clearly, there were no more hurt feelings for either man.
Seven Years in Tibet follows the life of a controversial figure, as Brad Pitt took on the role of SS Heinrich Harrer. The film is based on the autobiography of Harrer, which holds the same name as the film. Harrer was a mountaineer from Austria, who was a real-life Nazi Schutzstaffel NCO. However, the character was altered in the film. Pitt’s version of the character seemed to be more hesitant about the idea of the Nazi party, as he reluctantly takes the flag during a scene at the train station in the film. The real Harrer stated that he climbed the mountain of Eiger for “the Fuhrer.” Also, Pitt’s version of Harrer was regarded as a German hero after climbing the Eiger mountain. Harre in the film says, “No thanks, I’m Austrian.” This choice of words would have been provocative to say considering Austria was part of Germany in the late 1930s.
Seven Years in Tibet follows Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) and Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis) as they climb Nanga-Barpat in what was British-ruled India. When WWII breaks out in 1939, the men are arrested by British authorities and labeled as enemy aliens. They are then sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Dehradun. After spending nearly five years as POWs, the men break out and then find themselves in Tibet. Initially, they are not welcomed in the country but disguise themselves to get to the capital of Lhasa. While there, Harrer is taken to meet the 14th Dali Lama, who is only a boy. Harrer then becomes the boy’s tutor, as he instructs him in subjects like world geography, science, and Western culture. Harrer and the Dali Lama become friends due to spending so much time with one another. Harrer’s time in Tibet becomes tense when China and Tibet’s relationship sours, and the country means to occupy Tibet. Without getting too much more into the film, fans of Brad Pitt can watch this historical drama on Netflix to see the rest of the film.
Seven Years in Tibet currently holds a 60% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the 73% audience score generally paints a picture that people were a fan of this true-life historical drama. Against a budget of $70 million, the film grossed $131.5 million at worldwide box offices. It could have honestly made a ton more money had it not been banned in China. Even with the money that the film made, it was still deemed a success. $131 million in the 1990s was still a lot. It is also still lauded as one of the best performances by Brad Pitt.
Seven Years in Tibet is currently streaming on Netflix. Brad Pitt may have been portraying a real-life Nazi officer, but it’s still a film with themes of acceptance and empathy. Harrer is still an egocentric mountaineer that finds solace and teachings after he becomes the tutor of the 14th Dali Lama. Fans of Pitt will likely enjoy this late 1990s classic. Also, maybe just watch it to see why China had banned two actors and the director from the country for over a decade. Maybe that ban was not warranted. Go see for yourself.