The 2009 French film A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard, is one of the best prison/crime films (it contains elements of both) I have seen in a long time. In its gritty realism, it is a throwback to the greatest prison films of bygone eras. I’m thinking of classics like A Man Escaped, Escape from Alcatraz, Papillon, or even the 1985 Runaway Train.
These disappeared after the Tarantino age was ushered in with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and after that, prison and crime films, with their slick, fast-paced cinematography, jumbled morality and glamorous characters, came to resemble long music videos more than dramas. (The 2004 British film Layer Cake is a prime example of this type of film.)
A Prophet, however, shows criminals and prison life as I imagine they are really like: dirty, ugly and unpleasant, inhabited by people who have to be both brutal and cunning just to survive from one day to the next. In this sense, the film is a great success, and that alone would make it worth viewing. Many other people have sung its praises as well, and it won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009.
There is another layer to A Prophet, however, and that is primarily what I would like to discuss here. It is also the story of the rise of a criminal mastermind from nothingness to absolute power, similar to the paradigm we’ve seen before in The Godfather films and Scarface. Mixed with this is a none-too-subtle parable about the position of immigrants in France, and, by extension, Europe, in both the present and the future.
Alarm bells should immediately ring when Wikipedia quotes a French interview with director Audiard about the film in which he said that he was “creating icons, images for people who don’t have images in movies, like the Arabs in France,” even though he added to this that it “has nothing to do with [his] vision of society.” I’m sorry, Monsieur Audiard, but I don’t believe that you simply wanted to make a movie about Parisian criminals.
My discussion requires that I give a quick summary of the film’s plot, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know the story before doing so, turn back now. The film begins as 19-year-old Arab Malik El Djebena is being thrown into a prison in Paris. The prison is run by two gangs of inmates: one consisting of the Muslims; and the other, which is much more successful and wealthy, run by Cesar Luciani, a Corsican crime boss who is still running his empire from inside the prison, along with his Corsican cohorts.
Malik, weak and defenseless, is at first easy prey, and he is attacked and robbed by fellow Muslims shortly after his arrival. Typically, the Corsicans will have nothing to do with the Arabs, but an Arab prisoner arrives who they know intends to testify against them. Not having any allies in the Muslim section of the prison, they recruit Malik by offering to give him protection in exchange for murdering the witness.
Malik carries out the assassination, and thereafter becomes a servant to the Corsicans, who protect him but treat him with contempt and hold him at a distance. At the same time, the other Muslims regard Malik as a traitor for working with them, and as a result he is kept safe but isolated.
This situation continues for some time until most of the Corsicans are freed, leaving Cesar with only a handful of followers. After this he is forced to rely to a much greater extent on Malik, but gives him occasional, brutal reminders not to think that he can live without Cesar’s continued protection. Still, Malik’s life begins to improve considerably, and he is able to have many goods brought to his cell from the outside, including White prostitutes. Eventually, because of his good behavior in the eyes of the prison authorities, he is allowed to begin taking day-long leaves out of the prison, and Cesar uses him as a messenger to negotiate deals with his own bosses in Paris, becoming even more indispensable to him.
Meanwhile, Malik finally befriends one of the Muslim prisoners, Ryad, who finishes his sentence and helps Malik, in spite of Cesar’s threats, to set up a hashish smuggling operation which begins to win Malik contacts among the Muslim inmates. We later learn that Ryad is dying of cancer, but he continues to help Malik to build his network in return for Malik’s promise that he will care for Ryad’s wife and family after he dies.
Malik continues to become more and more important to Cesar’s operations, and simultaneously begins to win the respect of the Muslim gang leaders both inside and outside the prison, as they recognize that Malik occupies a unique position, being the only person to straddle both sides of the underworld. Things come to a climax when Cesar, suspecting that his Italian boss is plotting against him, asks Malik to arrange for the Don’s assassination during one of his leaves outside the prison.
Malik agrees, and initially the Arabs and the Corsicans plan to carry out the attack together, but the two groups despise each other and cannot cooperate. On the day of the attack, Malik deserts the Corsicans, and he and Ryad successfully carry out the hit on their own. Knowing that the remaining Corsicans in the prison will now turn on each other, Malik deliberately returns from his leave late and is thrown into solitary confinement – for forty days and forty nights. By the time he emerges, all of the Corsicans apart from Cesar himself have either been killed or sent to other prisons.
In the last part of the film, Malik is returned to the prison population, and we see him come out into the yard, which has traditionally been split between the Corsicans and the Muslims, only now, Cesar sits by himself. Malik is welcomed by the Muslims as their new leader, and he takes his place at the center of their group.
Cesar signals for Malik to come and speak with him, but Malik ignores him. Getting desperate, Cesar finally attempts to cross over to the Muslim side, but some of them stop him and beat him up before he can reach Malik. Realizing he has lost, Cesar staggers back to his side of the yard.
Shortly thereafter, Malik completes his sentence, and on the day he is released, he is met by Ryad’s wife and children. As he walks home with them, we see several vehicles pull up behind them, discreetly keeping their distance, and we realize that it is Malik’s new security detail. The film ends, the transfer of power now complete.
The subtext of this story should be easy to read without much analysis. If we view the prison as a microcosm of Europe, Cesar and the Corsicans represent the White European establishment, while Malik and the other Muslims represent the disenfranchised immigrants. Malik suffers repeated humiliation at the hands of the Whites, and even does their dirty work, but he is really just biding his time. He slowly builds his power base, and after he gains their trust, he uses it against them, and manages to displace them in the prison that formerly belonged to them.
There is even a giveaway line in the middle of the film, when Cesar remarks to Malik that at one time the Whites were in the majority in the prison, but that they are rapidly becoming outnumbered by the Muslims. Indeed, if present trends continue, the story of A Prophet is very likely going to be the story of Europe in the twenty-first century. Muslim immigrants will tolerate the system as long as they have to, but as soon as they have the strength and are in a position to do so, they will surely shove their hosts aside and suck whatever remains of Europe dry, leaving the descendants of the original inhabitants of Europe to simply watch and mourn while it happens – those who don’t switch sides, that is.
As Greg Johnson has expressed it, the new masters of Islamic Europe will be like teenagers who steal a car: they’ll take it for a joy ride, drive it until it crashes, and then move on to the next car. Why? Because, fundamentally, it’s not theirs. Why should they be concerned with what happens to the culture of Homer, Goethe, and Baudelaire?
While it is very possible that this tale was born from the imaginations of ethnomasochistic French liberals, I don’t find much in this parable with which to disagree. Whatever their motivations, the filmmakers have caught the essential truth of what is happening in Europe today.
It is worth noting that one of the measures of Malik’s success is his screwing of White whores, and there is also a quick shot of a White woman embracing a Black man on a Paris street during one of Malik’s leaves. The ability of non-Whites to dominate White women through sex, thus robbing us of future progeny which we can call our own, is among the trophies of their success, as we’ve been seeing for a long time in our own country.
And, interestingly, it is not any of the Muslims who deliver the death blow to the White power base in the prison. Rather, the Whites do themselves in, rather as we have seen continuously among the European nations over the past century. Non-Whites will just need to step in once the Whites have finished killing themselves off.
Similarly, in the film, the process begins when Cesar admits an outsider to serve his own purposes, believing that he can keep him under control, just as the elites of the United States and Europe began to admit non-White immigrants in large numbers out of economic expediency and with little thought that the future might bring something altogether different from what they imagined. So, again, I challenge Audiard’s claim that his film has nothing to say about European society. Furthermore, this film could easily be remade in America with a Latino in the main role, and the message would remain the same.
One criticism the film has received from some quarters is in its treatment of Islam, and in particular the references to Malik as a prophet. I myself, given the film’s title, had assumed that eventually, Malik was going to undergo some sort of religious awakening, but it never happens. At no point in the film does he evince any interest whatsoever in his Muslim heritage.
We get occasional glimpses of more devout Muslim inmates in the background, and at one point Malik brings some of his hashish profits to a mosque (only because he didn’t think it was worth the risk to keep it himself, we learn). On another occasion, high on heroin, he sees another inmate spinning in the style of the whirling dervishes and chanting the names of Allah, and imitates him, working himself into ecstasy. But it never goes beyond this, and Malik’s actions could hardly be described as those of a good Muslim.
Still, the film draws a number of deliberate parallels between Malik and the lives of the Prophets of Islam. Malik, we learn, is illiterate, just as Muhammad was. Malik is kept in solitary confinement for forty days and nights, just as Moses and Jesus had fasted and prayed for the same length of time in isolation before being granted divine revelations. Muhammad also received many revelations through dreams, and Malik himself has a dream of deer running across a road. When he is in a car driving through a forest with a Muslim gang leader, he recognizes the area from his dream and warns the driver seconds before he hits a deer, henceforth becoming known as “a prophet.”
But if he’s not a religious leader, in what way is Malik a prophet? Is it really just a tasteless joke, as some critics have claimed?
I would say no, and the reasons for this have to do with my own views on Muslim immigration into Europe, and not Muslim immigration into the United States, I hasten to add, which I do not view as a threat of the same order. Many Rightists conflate Muslim immigration into Europe and America as if they are the same thing, but the fact is, they are not. The truth is that Muslims in the United States comprise less than 1% of the population, while Hispanics account for over 16%, and they are coming into the country at a much faster rate, both legally and illegally, than Muslim immigrants are. This is beside the fact that the majority of Muslims in Europe are poor and uneducated, while Muslims generally come to the United States to receive education and enter the middle class. The situations are simply not comparable. So, personally, I think those who believe that we have to protect ourselves from shariah law before it overtakes America, and who are trying to pass legislation to this effect, are wasting their time. The threat of immigration to America is real, but comes from different sources.
As a traditionalist, I respect Islam in its genuine forms, primarily Sufism, as a manifestation of the supreme, metaphysical truth. Unlike many of my political colleagues, my own problem with Muslim immigration has little to do with the religion itself, and I think A Prophet successfully illustrates my own thoughts on the matter.
There are some traditionalists, particularly followers of the teachings of René Guénon or Frithjof Schuon who have converted to Islam themselves, who view Muslim immigration into Europe as a positive thing, since they believe that Europe, having lost its own sacred traditions, will be resacralized by being reintegrated into a spiritual culture, regardless of the fact that it is a foreign tradition.
Even Ahmed Huber, the Swiss German banker who, rather like Malik, occupied a unique place where the worlds of Islamic fundamentalism and the European Right met, contended that, eventually, Muslim immigration into Europe would give rise to a unique form of “European Islam.” Muslim scholars, including the Scots convert Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi and the Swiss Egyptian Tariq Ramadan, have likewise predicted the rise of such a thing.
On the surface, this might seem like a good idea, since it is undeniable that Europe is in desperate need of a return to spirituality. Unlike Guénon or Schuon, however, I believe that a religion has to be connected to one’s racial and cultural makeup, and the mere fact of a system of beliefs being associated with the Primordial Tradition is insufficient by itself. A “European” Islam would remain as inherently anti-European, no matter how many concessions it makes, as Christianity has always been, and surely its impact would be just as destructive as the last attempt to alter the spiritual foundations of our people was.
However, even this is not the main issue for me. The fact is, as we see in A Prophet, the culture of the majority of Muslims in Europe is not the high-minded Sufi Islam of Martin Lings or Seyyed Hossein Nasr (two prominent contemporary traditionalists). Mostly, it does not even rise to the purely exoteric, black-and-white level of political Islamism.
The culture of Muslims in Europe is a ghetto culture, a culture of the lowest form of materialism, which is the only thing that can emerge from generation after generation of poverty, ignorance, resentment, and petty violence, all the while being encouraged in this by their cheerleaders among the ethnomasochistic liberal elites. It is no more “Islamic” in the true sense than the culture of urban Blacks in America is reflective of African culture.
There will be no restoration of spirituality or traditional values, European or Muslim. What I imagine would emerge from their triumph would be something like the city of Detroit over the past half-century, in which the underclass came to power only to set about stripping down and selling off anything of value with no thought for the future, quickly reducing the entire area into a depressing wasteland that is beyond recovery, and bearing only the faintest traces of having once been something better.
This is the true prophecy that Malik offers us: a vision of the brutal rise of a criminal-minded underclass which is interested in nothing but its own survival and material enrichment, and one which will have little regard for the welfare of its former overlords. I do not blame immigrant populations for being this way. They come to the West to seek a better life, which is only natural, and it cannot be denied that their lives here have been rough and humiliating.
However, we cannot let understanding of their plight to any degree lessen our resolve to protect what is rightfully ours. As John Michell once wrote, every people is given a space in which to realize itself. Europe, at least for the time being, still has its space, and the Muslims have theirs (apart from Palestine). There should be no shame in asserting ourselves, even though many of us, under the influence of negative and culture-destroying ideologies, have come to feel shame about it.
Therefore it remains to be seen if Europe will actually resign itself to having reached the end of its natural life cycle, or if it still retains enough vitality to bring about a restoration of some sort. But the hour is getting late, and there is much to be done. And Malik and his cohorts are already dreaming of their prophecy with their eyes wide open.