The Last Emperor | Chicago Reader

The Last Emperor

Bernardo Bertolucci's visually ravishing spectacle (1987) about the life of Pu Yi (1905-'67) is a genuine rarity: a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time. Pu Yi (played by three children at ages 3, 8, and 15, and by John Lone as an adult) remained an outsider to contemporary Chinese history for most of his life, and Bertolucci uses his remoteness from China as an objective correlative of our own cultural distance as Westerners (virtually all of the dialogue is rendered in English). Working with visual and thematic rhymes, Bertolucci is interested in charting the gradual substitution of the state for the family—though two key agents in this process are the father figures of his Scottish tutor (Peter O'Toole) and a governor at a Chinese prison. 159 min.

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