Time Out   ★★★★  CRITICS CHOICE

Trevor Johnson

With its mellifluous female voiceover and fascinating observational footage, Gary Tarn’s visualisation of ‘The Prophet’, the million-selling poem from 1923 by Kahlil Gibran, curiously echoes Chris Marker’s ‘Sans Soleil’. But Gibran’s mystical pronouncements differ wildly from the French filmmaker’s musings on fleeting moments. Beloved by generations of readers, scorned by the critics, Gibran’s spiritually portentous language is beautifully read by Thandie Newton while Tarn – assembling images from his travels – sometimes illustrates the prophet’s journey, sometimes finds a metaphorical representation of the text. Tarn demands a viewer alive to both words and pictures, but marrying Gibran’s inclusive, dogma-free vision to the affection with which the camera views everything from a London nude bicycling demo to Lebanese shoemakers at work, he delivers a heady rush of affirmation. Tarn’s expansive, intimate, lovely film lets us share the connectedness of humanity, as we see lovers, workers, families all over the world getting on with the business of being alive.

The Guardian

Peter Bradshaw

Gary Tarn is a British director creating collages of images and ideas, in the tradition of Chris Marker – directing, shooting, editing, and composing the music. After his Bafta-nominated Black Sun, he has returned with a visual quilt inspired by the prose-poem The Prophet, a spiritual-humanist work by Kahlil Gibran. He assembles intriguing and potent images, strikingly juxtaposed, a free-form cinematic rhapsody, which is accompanied by an adapted voice-over of the original text. This may also have absorbed something from Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. I am an agnostic about Gibran – for me, his work verges on Hallmark-card-speak – and it took a while to acclimatise to Thandie Newton's narration, in a sonorous American accent. But Tarn is persuasive, and you can't help but respond to the boldness, intelligence and creativity of his film-making.

The Evening Standard

Derek Malcolm

Whatever you think of the philosophical musings of Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, whose 1923 book is still a cult classic, Gary Tarn’s film, narrated by Thandie Newton, is a pleasure to watch. Tarn’s own music is dovetailed with the words as he travels between Lebanon, Serbia, New York, Milan and London, teasing out images that underscore Gibran’s text, in a visual essay that owes something to Werner Herzog and Chris Marker.

Little White Lies

David Jenkins

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.


Gary Tarn’s The Prophet is perhaps the most striking and cinematic film to screen so far at Hot Docs. Both an adaptation of and an homage to the 1923 prose poem The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Tarn’s film explores the longevity and universality of Gibran’s words. The Prophet is quite an abstract film, with the opening lines of Gibran’s poem read in voice-over by Thandie Newton beginning as the film offers a spanning vision of outer space. The film then cuts to some war-torn buildings, possibly in Lebanon, and Newton continues to read the poem.

The words explore the bomb-ravaged cavities of the buildings and use Gibran’s message of peace to stress human error. The message continues in the light diplomatic cadence of Newton’s narration and jets the story elsewhere. The nomadic wanderings of the film might at first create a sense of alienation. The Prophet certainly meanders, but not without purpose.

The images Tarn selects might at first seem random. What relationship do the war-torn streets of the Middle East bear to a parade of naked bicyclists in England? If one listens attentively, however, one notices that Tarn uses the words of Gibran’s poem as a search for one’s place in the world. He takes the written word and finds images from around the globe to act as a visual equivalent. Spanning the story from America, to the UK, to India, Taiwan, and more, Tarn applies the poem to create a common thread between cultures.

Stunningly shot by Tarn himself (he also did the music), The Prophet is a sincere and enlightening experience. It involves a high degree of sense-making, but the film evokes comparison to Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil through its powerful fusing of sight and sound. As with Sans Soleil, the globe-trotting nature of the film brings out the collective and humanist message of the text. Similar to the Chris Marker film, moreover, Tarn’s essay film will likely prove tedious to some viewers; consequently, the film is not recommended for moviegoers who dislike active viewing. On the other hand, moviegoers who like a film that makes them think will relish the beautifully evocative nature of The Prophet. It’s a compelling realization of love and loss.

Rating: ★★★★


How much one enjoys this cerebral adaptation of Kahlil Gibran's mega-selling book of prose poetry The Prophet might depend how disposed one is to Gibran's (for me) flaky touchy-feely philosophy.

My less-than-charitable feelings about Gibran, however, were muted considerably by Gary Tarn's evocative, poetic filmmaking. In what is a stroke of exquisite taste, he's enlisted the brilliant actress Thandie Newton (Besieged, Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness) to narrate Gibran's words. Her voice is infused with such mellifluous grace and passion, that one could almost close one's eyes for the entire running time of the picture and be utterly mesmerized by prose which, on the page, always seemed a bit too pretentiously thick for my literary needs.

Closing one's eyes, however, might not be the best advice since you'd miss out on Tarn's superb imagery (which he photographed all over the world). It's delicately and gorgeously edited and accompanied by an extremely appropriate score that Tarn also composed. Again, for me, the score feels borderline New-agey, but I have to also admit it works superbly within the context of both Thandie's humdinger of a voice and Tarn's photography.

Frankly, I much preferred Gibran's words within the context of the movie Tarn has rendered. The tale of a prophet about to go on a long journey (possibly to that big pulpit in the sky where all preachers and philosophers go) and his words of wisdom to a clutch of followers seems perfectly suited to the style of poetic docu-narrative Tarn has constructed.

Very similar to Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi), as well as Ron Fricke's (Reggio cinematographer) Baraka, Tarn's film uses music and image to convey Gibran's philosophies which, I grudgingly must admit, work perfectly within the context of contemporary events. That Gibran's words are delivered with such power by Thandie Newton sure doesn't hurt. In fact, I'd argue that Tarn doesn't actually stray from either Reggio and Fricke's non-verbal approach since Thandie gives Gibran's words a quality that's close to music itself.

On a sidenote, I watched the film with my 11-year-old daughter before she went to school in the morning. She was so transfixed that she couldn't stop talking about the movie and asking questions as I drove her to class. She also expressed interest in both seeing the movie again but only until after she could read Gibran's book of "The Prophet".

Tarn should have no problem appeasing the converted, but if the experience with my daughter is any indication, he might well have a great shot at influencing the yet-to-be-converted. As for curmudgeons like myself, I suspect I'd need to read the book again only at gunpoint, but I sure enjoyed watching Tarn's movie.

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