It's not so much that this is a good movie—it is—it's that it's surprisingly good at what it's trying to do, which isn't easy. The story is very simple: After 12 years of imprisonment, Mustafa is being freed from his cabin prison on Orphalese, on the condition he go home and never return to Orphalese. The catch, if it's not obvious from the start, is that the authorities don't plan to let him go so much as they plan to get him to the water's edge and kill him—unless he denounces his own words.
The movie, then, is basically the walk from the cabin to the water, escorted by an officious sergeant, where at each point along the way he is greeted by worshipful villagers, all of whom he treats as at least his equal, stopping to share one of his "poems" with them.
The poems are all done in different styles of animation, abstractions of the ideas being presented, by different directors even. Including one by comic animation genius, Bill Plympton, who plays it utterly straight while still being thoroughly recognizable.
The shocking aspect of this is revealed in the 20-point split between audiences and critics: Namely, Gibran's poems are deeply, deeply conservative, at least as presented here. What do we learn from The Prophet?
- No work is beneath you. The meanest of work is worthy of dignity and gives dignity to the man who does it.
- Monogamy is vital. Don't be fooled by the allure of those who would take you away from your true love.
- As a parent, you are the bow from which the arrows that are your children are launched. This was a fascinating poem, and true, I thought. It allowed that it was okay to try to emulate your children, but not to try to force them to emulate you.
- You are greater than the earthly powers that try to imprison you.
Ultimately, though, this is just a beautifully poetic film of beautiful poetry. The story of Mustafa's relationship with the mute little girl Almitra is as touching as it is predictable. But that's sort of the way of this movie: It say true, simple things well, and the real surprise is that you're surprised to be hearing it.
But then you probably won't hear of it because won't get a wide release. It only opened slightly bigger than the Jewish sex documentary, The Lost Key (which we saw the following week).
Salma Hayek produces—she was the impetus in getting this made, perhaps due to her Lebanese roots—and voices Kamila, Almitra's mother. Almitra is voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Liam Neeson is Mustafa. The great Frank Langella plays the evil military leader, Pasha. John Krasinski (Away We Go) plays the lovesick Halim. Alfred Molina is the Sergeant.
We were actually looking to see it again, we liked it so much. And The Boy wanted to take his girlfriend. And when we did see it, one of the guys who works at the theater was there for his second viewing.
So, yeah. Well done, Ms. Hayek!