Vast legions embrace the thing as gospel. Skeptics dismiss it as ecstatic nonsense. In any event, James Redfield's peculiar novel The Celestine Prophecy has been a bulwark of New Age metaphysics since it first hit the best-seller lists back in 1993. By recent estimates, there are 14 million copies in print, and it has been translated into 40 languages. Take that, Da Vinci Code. Up yours, Harry Potter.
Now the long-awaited (and long-dreaded) movie version has arrived, and if nothing else, that means a lot of people who can recite the book's cherished "Nine Insights" like their ABCs will get another chance to tell the rest of us how they've unlocked the secrets of the universe. Hint: It's all about synchronicity and higher vibrations, evolutionary flow and eating your broccoli. Life's ultimate goal? "To energize our bodies, generation by generation, until we walk into a heaven we can finally see."
He may be blissed out, but Redfield is one calculating fictioneer. Whatever else you might think of it, The Celestine Prophecy is a market-savvy fusion of religiously inclusive pop cosmology and pulp thrills, and the movie -- scripted by Redfield and Barnet Bain, and directed without much inspiration by a U.S. TV veteran, Armand Mastroianni -- dutifully follows suit. For those innocent of the phenomenon, here's a briefing: Deep in the rain forests of Peru, seekers of wisdom have discovered an ancient manuscript of uncertain provenance containing Nine Insights. Truth be told, this is some pretty vague stuff about fulfilling your dreams and achieving your destiny and not sticking your big nose into other people's personal energy fields. But that doesn't keep the enemies of truth -- a devious Catholic bishop wearing a red silk beanie (Hector Elizondo), some corrupt military officers who seem to have bought their uniforms at Banana Republic, and a mysterious hit man named Jensen (Jurgen Prochnow) -- from trying to suppress the sacred scrolls and thus deprive us all of imminent salvation.
The Celestine Prophecy
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Enter the hero, a handsome young American named John Woodson (here portrayed by one Matthew Settle), a dewy-eyed idealist who's just been fired from his job as a high school history teacher. Little matter. Before you can say pollo asado, John is on the next flight to Lima simply because an acquaintance says he should go. Ten minutes after checking in to his hotel, he runs into a gentle priest who starts telling him about the Prophecy, and three minutes after that he's fleeing a squad of nasty third-world polica toting Russian-made machine guns. Hey. Not to worry. Hoofing it down a dark alley, our man is taken in by a Good Samaritan named Wil (Thomas Kretschmann). Come the next morning, the two of them are off to the jungle on a voyage of self-discovery.
Abrupt? You bet. Improbable? Sure. But Redfield and company are nothing if not certain that coincidence equals fate and that self-awareness falls upon the willing like transcendent rain. Learn the Nine Insights and everything will be cool. Even if there's a civil war raging in Peru and the rebels are doing their best to steal your personal energy before shooting you dead.
This neatly packaged and highly dubious antidote to the world's ills obviously won't appeal to everyone -- least of all to those who recognize atrocious moviemaking when they see it. But if New Age rapture is your thing, you may like the golden halos that suddenly spring to life around the heads of John and Wil, and a dreamy-eyed maiden named Marjorie (Sarah Wayne Callies) and a true believer called Father Sanchez (Joaquim de Almeida). You may love the insistent notion that if we all just follow our own highest intuition, then personal conflict, war and disease will simply vanish as we achieve a higher plane of existence.
All right, so maybe that will take a while. When the book was published 13 years ago, Redfield predicted a massive spiritual transformation of society in the last decade of the 20th century. But the enlightenment is running late, so the movie's dialogue now has it happening in "the first years of this century." It's hard to know what Osama bin Laden, George Bush and the jihadists in Iraq might have to say about that, but things still don't look good, do they? For now, it's worth noting that Nine Insights were evidently insufficient to Redfield's (and his publisher's) needs. After cranking out a sequel, The Tenth Insight, which was billed as "a trip that will take you through portals into other dimensions," the author extended his franchise with The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight. Who knows? By the time we're all saved, the Insight count could be up there in the fifties. At the very least, the movie threatens a sequel of its own in the last reel. Wow. You can practically feel the personal energy level rising already.