The Celestine Prophecy

The Celestine Prophecy


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Shortly after he is downsized from his job as a history teacher, John Woodson (Matthew Settle) meets up with an old flame Charleen (Robyn Cohen) who tells him about some ancient prophetic scrolls unearthed in Viciente, Peru. A series of coincidences leads John to Viciente, where he finds himself caught in the middle of a struggle between the devoted team racing to locate, translate and publish all nine scrolls (each containing a transformative 'Insight' into the physical and spiritual evolution of humankind), and the local General (Petrus Antonius) and Cardinal Sebastian (Hector Elizondo) who are working with a mysterious foreign agent (Jürgen Prochnow) to suppress the Prophecy at any cost.

"Look, I could describe these Insights to you right now and you would hear my words, but you have to do more than that, you have to experience it for yourself. The Prophecy has to happen to you." So says the guide Wil (Thomas Kretschmann) to his new disciple John. Wil has a glazed look in his eye and a beatific smile on his lips that tells us he is someone who can see things just beyond our grasp.

Copy picture

It is the same with Charleen, with Professor Dobson (John Aylward), with Father José (Castulo Guerra), with Julia (Annabeth Gish), with Marjorie (Sarah Wayne Callies), with Father Sanchez (Joaquim de Almeida), with Miguel (Obba Babatundé), or with any of the other Celestine converts that John encounters on his journey – they all display the kind of blank, wide-eyed fervour that is the mark of true hierophants – or else of madmen, drug users and credulous fools. In the film's final image, John too has that smiling expression on his face - but it makes him look not so much like a genuine Illuminatus as like Tom Cruise bouncing on a sofa, all manic and ridiculous.

This is the whole problem with The Celestine Prophecy. Even if it is intended to help viewers experience for themselves the spiritual Insights that it dramatises and allegorises, these turn out to be little more than sub-Yoda wafflings, with 'the Flow' subbing for the Force, with touchy love and feely intuition the answers to all the world's problems, and with wild coincidence the proof of a divine purpose, when it is really just proof of lazy plotting. Naturally, though this newly discovered creed uses a mish-mash of New Age syncretism to reconcile mainstream religion with evolutionary science, it still claims, like all creeds before it, to be the 'One Truth'.

If viewers, however, are to take any of this mumbo jumbo remotely seriously, they will first need to be as 'open' (ie as gullible) as John, and then share his rapidly acquired powers to observe aura-like energy, to commune with the dead, to see the future and to become invisible. "You have to really believe the experience exists," Julia tells John; and though he starts out as a sceptic – if hardly a staunch one – by the end John has suspended all disbelief and taken the leap of faith. Few of us, though, will be willing, let alone able, to follow him in his initiatory steps towards enlightenment.

All this might serve as a sort of satire on conversion experience (à la Michael Tolkin's The Rapture, or anything made by Alejandro Jodorowsky), but apparently it was not meant to be that way. Based on James Redfield's cult novel from the mid-nineties (with 14 million copies sold worldwide in 45 different languages), and not only co-scripted by Redfield but also largely financed by him, The Celestine Prophecy presents itself with a thoroughgoing earnestness that excludes any kind of irony.

It is impossible to know whether Redfield actually believes what he preaches, but there is no doubt that he wants his viewers to buy what he is selling. If he is really just a charlatan and only masquerading as the high priest of cosmic gobbledygook, he is certainly not letting on to anybody. It may be full of wonders, but The Celestine Prophecy is untouched by the miracle of good humour. Which, of course, practically ensures that the film is in fact very funny – but for all the wrong reasons. If you are laughing, your laughter will be at the film rather than with it.

Even if you ignore its risible content, The Celestine Prophecy hardly represents filmmaking at its finest. TV director Armand Mastroianni's work is merely workaday, Settle's acting is wooden, the characterisation is bland, most of the dialogue is undisguised exposition, and the plot, though busy, is rarely engaging – not least because of its excessive reliance on events dictated by pure chance. Worst of all are the occasional glimpses that the film offers of humankind's future heaven. For while this ought to have been an opportunity to show images of sublime beauty, what we get instead is a tacky glowing effect, reminiscent of nothing less than one of those backlit moving waterfall pictures often found hanging on walls alongside a trio of carved ducks. And that's it in a nutshell: The Celestine Prophecy may set out to reveal the Truth to the needy masses, but really it is just the cinematic equivalent of religious kitsch for the irredeemably tasteless and the archly ironic.

Just about the best thing that can be said for this spiritual potboiler is that it is not much worse than The Da Vinci Code.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2007
Share this with others on...
The Celestine Prophecy packshot
A former schoolteacher finds himself caught up in the hunt for sacred scrolls in Peru.
Amazon link

Director: Armand Mastroianni

Writer: James Redfield, Barnet Bain, Dan Gordon

Starring: Matthew Settle, Thomas Kretschmann, Sarah Wayne Callies, Annabeth Gish, Hector Elizondo, Joaquim de Almeida, Jürgen Prochnow, John Aylward, Castulo Guerra, Obba Babatundé, Robyn Cohen, Petrus Antonius, Rachel Erickson

Year: 2006

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: USA


Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Da Vinci Code