Enlightenment guaranteed


The brothers Uwe and Gustav seek enlightenment in a Japanese Zen monastery.

Movie data

Title: Enlightenment guaranteed
Original title: Erleuchtung garantiert
Published: 1999
Length: 95 minutes

Director: Doris Dörrie
Script: Doris Dörrie, Ruth Stadler
Production: Franz Xaver Gerstl

Heiner Lauterbach: Heiner
Anica Dobra: Anica
Gustav Peter Wöhler: Gustav
Ulrike Kriener: Ulrike
Uwe Ochsenknecht: Uwe
Petra Zieser: Petra


The road movie tells the story of two men, Uwe and Gustav, who want to find themselves in a Zen monastery.
Uwe is left by his wife Petra, who no longer sees any point in living together because Uwe is more concerned with himself and his job and less with his wife and children. In desperation, Uwe turns to his brother Gustav, who is married to Ulrike. Gustav works as a Feng Shui consultant and has long planned to travel to the Sojin Soin Monastery in Monzen, near Tokyo, to make spiritual progress. The desperate Uwe persuades him to take him there.
When they arrive in Japan, they spend their first evening in Tokyo and visit an extremely expensive bar. When the advertising lights that they had used as a guide go out, they cannot find their hotel again. Ulrike in Germany, whom they ask for the name of the hotel over the phone, prefers to stay in bed with her lover. The brothers spend the night in cardboard boxes on the street. The next morning they lose each other in the crowd. Gustav meets a German woman and soon finds Uwe again by chance. The woman gets them a job at the Hofbräuhaus in Tokyo so that they can get money again and travel to the monastery to seek enlightenment.
Uwe realizes that the monks' strict lifestyle can help him. The brothers have to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning, take cold baths, wipe the floor with cleaning rags and laboriously unpack the eating utensils. The roles are, in a sense, reversed. Because Gustav gives in under the pressure, while the unprepared Uwe, who was just along for the ride, proves surprisingly adaptable. The two brothers gradually lose “control” over their lives and learn to live in the present. The Abbot of Monzen explains, enlightenment is not the attainment of something, but the absence of something. In Uwe's case, it could be because he is no longer stuck with his living conditions.
Gustav is physically overwhelmed and afraid of making mistakes. After ten days of hardship in the monastery, both of them have come a little closer to their inner selves.


A comedy worth watching
In "Enlightenment Guaranteed" Dorris Dorrie showcases the story about the adventures of two brothers with different attitudes and characters on their way to and during their stay at the Japanese Monzen monastery. Uwe - a down-to-earth, somewhat pessimistic and impulsive salesman is contrasted to his sibling Gustav, who at first appears as a calm, peaceful meditation practitioner, devoted to Zen. It follows, however, that both of them are undergoing middle-age crisis: while self-centered Uwe, uncompassionate towards his wife and children, feels anxious after being left by his family, Gustav's life is not as smooth sailing as it may seem as well. In pursuit of finding himself, he plans the trip to Zen monastery not far away from Tokyo, and after numerous pleadings of Uwe, resolves to take his brother with him as well. But once they come to the Japanese capital, the brothers face unpredictable circumstances. Left without a penny in their pockets, they get lost in the Japanese megapolis, but finally figure out a way to get to the monastery, where their path to the enlightenment begins.
From the opening scene of the film, the director made the Zen context of the film quite clear while depicting children singing about shining lanterns. Some peculiar Zen features can be well observed throughout the movie: for instance, when the heroes engage in dialogue about existence of no self (anatman), central to Zen philosophy. The primary role ascribed to meditation in this movie, sheds light on peculiarities of Zen, for example. The First Noble Truth, recited by Gustav at the beginning, is especially relevant for this movie. Uwe engages in repetitive thoughts about the reasons why his wife had left him, while Gustav is excessively afraid of not-making mistakes. When they get in trouble in Japan, the episodes are shown when the heroes of the movie feel desperate once they have to sleep in the boxes on the street, for instance. They seem to be attached to the material comfort they had, which is natural for people like them. But once they are deprived of this comfort, they start suffering, which is an accompanying component of life, according to the First Noble Truth.
This movie is a truly useful insight not only to Zen, but into the life and culture in Japan, in general. Busy streets of Tokyo are contrasted to the calm monastic atmosphere. But what is common among all Japanese is the strong discipline. It is so inherent to Japanese culture, that it is highly observed in shops and restaurants, and also in the monastery. Probably, this explains why Uwe and Gustav needed a long time to accustom to certain monastic practices, which are alien to their ordinary life. Nonetheless, they proved to be hard-working, and by the end of their monastic adventure, were so internalized that they even engaged in collecting alms.
Although the elements and concepts of Zen are well represented in the story, this is not to say that Zen is an overarching and dominating theme of the movie. Instead it can be viewed as a helpful tool accompanying the main characters on the way to the enlightenment. Enlightenment in this context, should not be perceived as awakening which one attains while striving to Buddhahood. Instead, for the heroes of this movie, enlightenment is something personal that is acquired as a result of self-investigation and meditation; it refers to their ability to become free from previous attachments and fears, as well as enables the brothers to look at their lives through a completely new prism. Such understanding of enlightenment might reflect how certain Zen notions are viewed from the Western perspective.
The work done by film crew is especially worth noting. Notwithstanding its modest budget, this movie has successfully combined the elements of comedy, that kept the spectator appealing to main characters with elements of documentary, which made the movie appear more realistic. The transformation which Gustav and Uwe have undergone on their way to enlightenment is so well-delivered, that viewers cannot but feel sympathetic towards these two brothers.

Overall, this fascinating movie with its naïve and attractive characters might barely leave someone indifferent. While it remains doubtful whether one as a viewer can be guaranteed enlightenment, it is certainly true that some food for thought and a pleasant spending of time are definitely guaranteed.
aruchan 2018