The Next Guardian ★★★½

[7]

Unlike most films that focus their attention on the clash between tradition and modernity, The Next Guardian displays a refreshing lack of anger and disappointment between the generations. Even though the Bhutanese elders want different things for their children than they want for themselves, there is a basic love and respect that courses through this family and, at times, makes it even more tragic that they don't see eye to eye.

The father is the caretaker of a monastery that has been in the family for thousands of years. As the eldest son, it is up to Gyembo to leave "modern" school and undertake a full Buddhist education so that he can become a monk, taking over the "family business." But Gyembo likes hanging out playing videogames, flirting with girls, and just hanging out with his sister Tashi.

Tashi, meanwhile, is transgender and fully identifies as a boy. His parents, reading gender through a Buddhist lens, believe that he is a male spirit in a female body, and fundamentally accept him as he is. And yet, there is no consideration of Tashi becoming the family monk. (Not that he would want to either.)

The Next Guardian is a fascinating film precisely because it depicts Bhutan as a society in transition, working to accommodate the modern world and all of its wonders (including non-normative gender) while still making a place, even forcibly, for the old traditions. In the last shot, we see Gyembo's father explaining a series of Buddhist temple rituals to him, while Gyembo can barely keep his eyes open. This seems to be a perfect metonymic image for a "clash" that is happening slowly, gently, but unavoidably.