Sunday afternoon, my homegirl Sue and I went to see Un Prophete, or, The Prophet, a film that I read about weeks ago and had been anticipating ever since, about a young man who has just been condemned to prison, and cannot read or write. Arriving at the jail entirely alone, he appears younger and more fragile than any of the other convicts, at 19 years old. Cornered by the leader of the Corsican gang currently ruling the prison, he is given a number of missions to carry out, to toughen him up and gain the leaders protection and confidence.

Malik is a fast learner and rises up in the prison ranks, all while secretly devising his own plans.

Watching this movie was suspenseful, because you never knew what the leader of the Corsican gang was going to ask Malik to do next. Keep in mind, he wasn’t really asking. At the same time, he treated Malik like a dumb slave, because he was Arab, or, just another brown man, in his eyes.

Although you knew that Malik was somehow smarter than that, you still never knew who he would side with–the gang who protected him in prison (for a price), or the people who helped him learn to read and write.

Un Prophete is a gritty film, full of all the familiar trappings of prison life and what a man must do to protect himself. You feel sorry for Malik, a young man just starting adulthood, and at the outset, you know he’s sentenced to six years (although you never discover why) so you want him to make it through his term, without being raped or humiliated.

But the more you find out about him, the more you realize you don’t know. He has no family, no one to visit him, loyalties to no one. You don’t know if he’s Muslim or not. You don’t know who his parents are, or where they’re from. You DO know that he dropped out of school when he was 11 years old. But why? Is he a man who will never lie? Never steal? Does he make promises and break them? Did he do something admirable or something unforgivable to be sentenced to prison?

Or was he just a dumb young guy who flew by the seat of his pants and everything seemed to work its way out? These are the questions that I was left with at the end that made Malik seem like less of a prophet with a grand scheme and more like a wild yet lucky S.O.B. There were so many moments were Malik could have, and probably should have, been killed and then that would have been the end of it all.

But would he die? Should he die? And if he doesn’t, will he ever really make it out of prison alive? Will he make a difference in the world because of what he learned inside? Or will he go back to a life of crime because, as people say, going to prison is like going to Crime School? Maybe having these kinds of questions at the end of a film could be called insightful, but I like answers. Watching everything that Malik had to do and endure was a ride, but knowing why we’re going along for the ride would complete this evolution.
See you at Landmark next time,