Back to IndieWire

Why ‘Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet’ is a Cinematic Out-Of-Body Experience Brimming with Animated Wisdom

'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet' is a Cinematic Out-Of-Body Experience Brimming with Animated Wisdom

Fast-paced modernity acts like deceptive facade that tricks us
into thinking we’ve become something very different from what we’ve always
been. But below the multiple layers of unimportant burdens, pretended
indifference, and overflowing cynicism, lies an unalterable human core that
rejoices and suffers like it’s done since its genesis. A person navigating the
turbulent waters of life today is indeed pondering on the same questions that
another did centuries ago. Pain and pleasure, births and deaths, tears and laughter,
passion and despair, they all continue to trap us all in their ambivalent
choreography that forced us to question if there is meaning to the madness or
if the absurdity of the human condition is just an indecipherable codex.

thinkers have incessantly taken it upon themselves to interpret our common
fears and urges to arrive at somewhat logical conclusions about our puzzling
purpose and put these into comprehensible words. Academic and formal the philosopher
appeals to rational mind, while the poet delicately arranges his thoughts and
aims for the impetuous tenderness of our visceral side.

Like preachers of a higher faith that exist about
authoritarian religions, poets share their knowledge in ways unrestricted by
physicality. Their words travel in the wind and pierce hearts with darts made
out of profound realizations. Such sacred gift was granted by the universe to Kahlil
Gibran, the Lebanese-American poem who would
pen The Prophet, one of the most spiritual books ever written unbound by any denomination.

Containing ethereal poems delving
into specific facets of our mortal condition, Gibran’s volumes are not quintessential
material for a film adaptation. His writing seemed elusive to traditional representations
limited by a rigid narrative structure. Conscious of this seemingly
obstructive aspect, determined producer Salma Hayek recognized that a much more fluid
and unrestrictive medium was required to portray Gibran’s teachings not with
literal imagery, but with dreamlike works of moving art
that could evoke the essence of each verse.

Hayek set out to expand the accessibility of this book, one that her
grandfather of Lebanese origin treasured deeply and which she had grown to appreciate
herself, thought an animation project of tremendous magnitude.

to effectively turn this lifelong wish into a soulful visual feast, Hayek
enlisted nine of the world’s most passionate animators

fabricate magic with color and to take part in an exuberant celebration of creativity. Eight of them would craft individual segments interpreting
a specific poem without any parameter other than Gibran’s intricate phrases,
while another director was charged with the demanding task of wrapping these delightful
fragments in a frame narrative that could cohesively unify them. The product of
this phenomenal amalgamation is Roger Allers’ “Kahlil Gibran’s The
,” a cinematic out-of-body experience that deconstructs our existential yearnings and translates them into mesmerizing animated wisdom.

during the Disney Renaissance, Allers’ stylistic principles still carry a
familiar aesthetic that resembles iconic films from said period.

better known for directing one the most beloved animated tales of all time,
“The Lion King,” his resourceful hand touched several other projects including
“The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” as both a writer and a
storyboard artist. That myriad of storytelling abilities is reflected in his
approach to this unorthodox venture.

the character design employed in his enveloping storyline will immediately and instinctively
remind viewers of the filmmaker’s Disney origins, he manages to tailor

manages to tailor such distinct appearance for this singular undertaking.

classically elegant and precisely suitable for the plot-driven portion of the

Centered on Mustafa (Liam Neeson), a poet and painter living as a prisoner
of the Ottoman Empire for what they considered subversive ideas, Allers’
screenplay channels Gibran’s thin fictional account and develops it further so
that it blossoms into a full-length fable that relays its own moral, while serving
as vehicle for the abstract enclaves to be presented seamlessly.

spearheading the entire operation, in this section of the film Hayek also voices Kamila, a hardworking
widow paid by the regime to tend to Mustafa and who is out of option when it
comes to dealing with her rebellious, yet silent, young daughter, Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis). It’s only when the girl meets the unassuming wise man that
her quiet frustration begins to dissipate.A receptive vessel, Almitra is fascinated by Mustafa’ss
tranquil demeanor and fascination by his convictions even if she can’t fully grasp
their significance.

Neeson’s virile tone gives the protagonist a regal air
without sounding intimidating.

voice emanates tranquility coated with strength, like a fatherly figure at
peace with his every step. Alfred Molina appears as the comically villainous Sergeant in
charge of escorting Mustafa through the village, but who often gives in to his
human impulses on their way to the harbor. Meanwhile John Krasinski

Halim, a young official

 romantically pursuing Kamila, and veteran thespian Frank Langella is heard briefly as Pasha, the evil ruler who holds the poet’s fate in his hands. As the events that lead to Mustafa’s final trial unfold each
of the stylistically eclectic short sequences finds the right moment to be


First comes Michal Socha’s “On Freedom,“ in which an anthropomorphic
birdcage prevents its feathered captives from flying into the sunset. Ridding
themselves of their shackles holds the promise of fulfillment, but that desire
is in fact “the strongest of these chains.” Clever in its use of symbolism and
graceful in its execution, Socha’s rendition of Gibran’s piece is sharp and poignant.

with kaleidoscopic vividness, Nina Paley uses multiple motifs evocative
of both Indian and Greek iconography in “On Children,” to depict the
cyclical nature of life and the perennial bond between parents and their descendants. Though this connection is irreproachable, progenitors shouldn’t attempt to command the life they’ve brought
into the world because it’s not their possession, but a link in a greater continuum. Like bows launching arrows into an uncertain abyss, mothers and fathers must come to terms with letting go. Singer/songwriter
Damien Rice rearranges the author’s lines into heartfelt lyrics for a
melancholic song that builds up to a captivating finale.

Seductively, Joann Sfar‘s “On Marriage” shows two lovers dancing tango under the moonlight. Ancient ruins
become the battleground for a sensual clash where impeccable choreography is a
more of a strategic maneuver than just coordinated movement. Subtly wrestling each other to set the boundaries of their union,
husband and wife know their paths advance parallel, yet independently. Similarly exquisite is the manner in which Academy Award-winner Joan Gratz delivers “On Work,” via a painstaking technique known as claypainting. Blending
colors with inconspicuous ability, the seasoned artist travels through the numerous
notions on the worthiness of labor, whether physical or creative. Exceptionally
delicate in nature, her work thoroughly explains why “he who seizes the rainbow
to lay it on a cloth” is not nobler than “he who makes sandals for our feet.”

Bill Plympton‘s scratchy and utterly handcrafted
frames in “On Eating and Drinking” flow with the uncompromising
animator’s expected candidness.These elemental joys are held sacred by Gibran as “an act of
worship,” and while the cartoonist is respectful of this canon, humor is always a
vital quality of his deliberately nonchalant drawings. A man bites an apple and
as we follow its journey through the human body we witness nourishment and sustainability by means of Plympton’s style. Now, the most unquestionably breathtaking piece of this
magnificent puzzle, and perhaps the most beautiful piece of filmmaking to be
projected on screens this year, is Tomm Moore’s “On Love.”

alluring rhythm and detailed Art Nouveau designs flood each frame with
spellbinding imagery that speaks of the thorny splendor that falling for
another being entails. Elating and devastating at once, “love crowns you” 

with its intoxicating glory, but just as strongly it can “crucify
you” with merciless fury. Moore’s unmistakable enchantment illustrates an ancestral
couple ascending from the depths of darkness into the light of redemption propelled
by the dazzlingly magic of “love’s ecstasy.”

Silhouetted animals racing for survival personify human ambitions
in Mohammed Harib‘s “On Good and Evil.”

the broadness of the poem’s subject matter the animator could have taken much
more literal routes to relay its lesson, but his metaphorical approach successfully encapsulates
Gibran’s stance on benevolence and wickedness. In hi eyes any wrong doings perpetrated
have a purpose within the landscape of our collective destiny. All that is evil
was once kindness, because, according to the poet, “good tortured by its own
hunger and thirst.” Finally, our unavoidable fate is treated with compassion
rather than morbid tropes by

Gaëtan Brizzi and Paul Brizzi in their transcendent visualization of “On Death.”

soul, comes to life in the form of an incorporeal character who dances swiftly


is replaced with the hope that the end is just a transition into an
“unencumbered” state. Drinking from the “river of silence” allows our inner
divinity to truly sing without restrains. A peaceful rebirth only comes from
letting go of carnal necessities, and that’s something both Gibran and Mustafa

convince of.

Musically, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” was embellished by
composer Gabriel Yared’s grand score, which mixes epic sentiments with soothing
melodies decorating almost every second of it.

Tomm Moore’s lovely bit, Irish singers Lisa Hannigan and Oscar-winner Glen Hansard fashion a stirring tune out the scribe’s contemplation on amorous frenzy. Lastly, in addition to providing a song for Paley’s segment, Damien
Rice wrote another moving ballad titled “Hypnosis” to play during the final
credits. Perfectly reflective of the experiential attributes of the
film it caps, Rice’s stanzas put an empowering final touch as
it asks us to seek strength from our personal truth.


In this tapestry of lyrical mirages, the eternal
endurance of art prevails as testament of the immortality bestowed only on
those whose brilliance surpasses time and space. Harnessing wide-ranging techniques, the
artists behind “Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet” gifted us one of the most
mesmerizing films of the year and a milestone in the history of animation,
which brought together the genius of many to spread words of compassion and
serenity. Solidarity
amongst mankind and the acceptance of our flaws as virtues hidden by unnecessary
vanity and greed, are the first steps towards the reconciliation between what
we think we are now and what we’ve always been. Gibran’s message is as
relevant as ever today, so let us fill ourselves with the majesty of his
wisdom, and become vindicated disciples willing to live beyond merely existing.

“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” is now playing in L.A. and NYC and will open in other cities across the country in the upcoming weeks.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,