Mark Reviews Movies

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Roger Allers

Cast: The voices of Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek-Pinault, John Krasinski, Alfred Molina, Frank Langella, John Rhys-Davies, Quvenzhané Wallis

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements including some violence and sensual images)

Running Time: 1:24

Release Date: 8/7/15 (limited); 8/14/15 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 13, 2015

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, the beloved collection of poetic essays about the human condition, receives an animated treatment in the appropriately titled Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. Up to about a quarter of the movie presents its ideas in a way befitting the source material. Then there's the matter of the other three-quarters or so of the movie.

This is, essentially, a movie that has no idea of whom its audience consists, or better, it's a movie that realizes its audience will be made up of two different age groups: adult fans of the book and children who like animated movies or whose parents believe introducing their kids to this material will be good for them. Writer/director Roger Allers, who leads a team of nine other contributing directors, attempts to cater to both groups, and the result is a movie that is at war with itself.

One can easily imagine a theater filled with baffled adults and suddenly tired or antsy children. Then again, who am I to say that there isn't an audience of adult fans of the book who also want an overly simplified framing narrative to fill in the gaps between the poetry, as well as children who like their broad comedy to be interrupted by spiritualistic poems about life and death?

Speculation about hypothetical audience members aside, this movie is a tonal mess. It's an assemblage of meditative and visually diverse segments that examine the nature of what it means to be a physical and spiritual being. Those segments are then tied together by a story about a precocious young girl who, by the way, has an animal sidekick and that is filled with pratfalls, innocently mischievous humor, and a couple of jokes about how "icky" kissing is. To top it all off, the third act gives us a serious-minded but simplistic look at a political revolution and its consequences for a misunderstood man who just wants to teach people about being good. That part doesn't fit either narrative thread that comes before it, since it contradicts the lessons being taught and is a dispiriting way to end a movie featuring a friendly, helpful seagull.

The story begins in the harbor town of Orphalese with Almitra (voice of Quvenzhané Wallis), whose father died two years ago. She hasn't spoken since then, but she has been getting into trouble: stealing from the local market, causing general chaos, and skipping school to follow her mother Kamila (voice of Salma Hayek-Pinault) to work.

Kamila is a housekeeper at a remote abode in the mountains. There, Mustafa (voice of Liam Neeson), a famed and adored poet, has been under house arrest for the past seven years, because the local government believes his words could cause an uprising among the people. On this particular day, the powers that be have decided to release Mustafa on the conditions that he return to his home country and never return to Orphalese.

The poet is escorted by Halim (voice of John Krasinski), the guard at the house who is smitten with Kamila, and a military sergeant (voice of Alfred Molina), who devises another plan for the poet once he sees how much the people love him (Both of these characters quite often fall down and otherwise appear foolish). Almitra follows the kind prisoner on his way to the ship that will bring him home.

Along the way, Mustafa pauses to speak with the people around town, who are thrilled to see the poet again and want to hear his thoughts about a variety of topics. A newlywed couple would be honored if Mustafa would bless their marriage. Halim wants advice on how to woo Kamila. A group of workers want to know how their everyday toil is fulfilling, and potential revolutionaries want Mustafa to confirm their belief that the members of the local government are evil. He's more than happy to oblige the requests and curiosity of these people, save for the last group, to whom he explains how what appears to be evil is really just good that has been misdirected. Yes, Mustafa's/Gibran's treatises are mystical and confounding in that way, with seeming contradictions and stream-of-conscious metaphors tickling the mind. Neeson's dulcet recitations help, too.

That's why the movie's approach to these poetic essays is so successful. Each philosophical diversion is overseen by a different director, who brings his or her own distinct style and interpretation to the material at hand. Bill Plympton offers a scratchy, pencil-drawn examination of the circle of life within nature. Tomm Moore's mixture of curved-lined characters and geometric backgrounds tell the story of how love can succeed or fail. The art of a Grecian urn informs Nina Paley's segment about parenting, and Joann Sfar sees Mustafa's thoughts on a successful marriage as a delicate tango. Michael Socha, John Gratz, Mohammed Saeed Harib, and Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi, each provide a unique form of Impressionism to portray their pieces (respectively, on freedom, work, good and evil, and death).

As stylistically discordant as these nine segments are, they somehow form a satisfactory, unified whole through the marriage of words and images. It's the 10th story, the framing narrative, of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, though, that feels so very out of place, overwhelming the movie's other, individual accomplishments.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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