Gary Tarn's philosophically consoling global jaunt offers a poetic snapshot of contemporary human existence.
Falling somewhere between declamatory state-of-the-world address a la Koyaanisqatsi, a playful Man With a Movie Camera-style 'City Symphony', an ultra-poetic, Marker-esque essay on metaphysics and being, or – perhaps most miraculously – a pristine miniature of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, British director Gary Tarn's beautiful follow-up to his lauded 2005 documentary, Black Sun, is actually all of these things and more.
Taking as its inspiration the perspicacious writings of Lebanese-American scribe, Kahlil Gilbran, Tarn's film supplies a gorgeous image track to a recitation of the titular philosophical prose poem which is intoned with calmative grace by actor Thandie Newton. Structured very simply, Tarn matches the images to the subject of the narration, and much of the content his culled from snatched scenes and moments that have been gathered from locations across the globe.
It would be easy to dismiss The Prophet as delivering quackish solutions to difficult and profound questions, but that somewhat misses the point of the film. Via the washed-out images he shoots, Tarn seeks to lend Gilbran's text a sense of bracing universality and the ultimate point of the film is its suggestion that the issues raised in The Prophet carry equal weight with every living being. It transcends a trite 'One World' reading as its objective is never forced into your face, and Tarn appears to want viewers to interpret and enjoy the material in any way they feel. With it's light, melancholy classical score, it's even a film that would be equally pleasurable to let wash over you with your eyes closed.
As a piece of craft, The Prophet has been very neatly sculpted, even if it may initially feel like the images we're seeing on screen have been assembled and ordered at total random. The mellifluous editing and constant switches between digital and 16mm film lend the images a haunting quality, and add to the film's timeless quality. And despite the ornate nature of the prose, this rarely feels like a cut-and-dried literary homage: Tarn has made a film which extracts and plays with meanings more than it does methods.
It's been a long, long time since Tarn's (admittedly great) Black Sun...
On paper this shouldn't work, but Tarn's skillful editing and Thandie Newton's dreamy narration make this into a small joy.
Might not want to make you reach for Kahlil Gilbran's source material, but you'll want to watch the film again.