I first tried reading The Celestine Prophecy way back in 1995, after my grandmother gave me a copy of the 1994 new age adventure by James Redfield. Being spiritually destitute, I had dabbled in a couple big name religions, as well as tarot cards, past life regression classes, and a handful of other trials that I had hoped would reveal life’s true meaning. Unfortunately the hokey, spiritual novel based in Peru was just as effective in enlightening me as those other experiments. It also made me wince with its over-the-top cosmic vibe and banal spiritual observations.
Fast forward 11 years to just a few months ago, after the Celestine Prophecy was released as a movie. I decided to revisit the book for the sake of this column and also because (no surprise) I’m still looking to fill a spiritual void in my life. Surprisingly, the book proved to be a bit more entertaining. Still too new-agey? Yes. Still over the top and hokey? Oh yes. And did I mention hilarious?
What I didn’t realize about the book the first time I read it was how inadvertently funny it is. I’m sure Redfield didn’t mean to be humorous when he came up with lines like, “I realized that each emerging species represented life-matter—moving into its next higher vibration.”, but he hit my funny bone more than a couple times.
In a nutshell, the book is about an American History professor who is pulled out of his everyday life when an old girlfriend contacts him and tells him about an ancient Peruvian manuscript that predicts a new spiritual reality for mankind. A heartbeat later, he’s on a plane headed for South America in order to find the manuscript. When he gets there, he meets several people who are also interested in the manuscript. Together they dodge the military, which is on a witch hunt to destroy the ancient text and anyone involved with it.
The manuscript, which is composed of nine insights, makes vague allusions to embracing life’s coincidences, following one’s own intuition, understanding energy fields, realizing that we’re all connected,…blah blah blah. In general, the book doesn’t introduce any concepts that are at all unique. You’d be better off reading something by the Dali Lama in order to explore worthwhile spiritual ideas. And if it’s a high-octane adventure revolving around an ancient manuscript you’re after, stick with The Da Vinci Code. At least that’s got a toe in reality.
Overall, Redfield’s writing is rather generic. Even the lead character is without a name. Despite being populated with several individuals who could have been fleshed out and made somewhat interesting, The Celestine Prophecy is packed with one-dimensional personas whose sole purpose, it seems, is to deliver Redfield’s message of metaphysical enlightenment.
Late last year, Redfield converted the plot of his book into a film, recruiting Barnet Bain (What Dreams May Come) to help write and Armand Mastroianni to direct. The results were cryptic, to say the least. As the movie unfolds, things are hinted at rather than explained, making for a rather murky movie. Part of the problem is the breakneck pace. We tear through Peru, beginning in Lima, and magically end up in the Andes—all within mere moments.
Once in the mountains, things get really confusing: rebels jump out of the jungle and harass tourists and locals, the military scraps with the rebels, a cardinal and a general have obscure dialogues in bad Spanish, a couple of buildings are torched. All of this occurs while John runs from the bad guys and attempts to get closer to the Ninth Insight. It doesn’t take long to realize you need to read the book, first, if you don’t want to get lost.
Since my husband is Peruvian and I’ve traveled extensively throughout the country, I knew right away that the movie wasn’t filmed there (it was actually shot in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Florida). It’s as if the set designers simply plastered Inca Cola posters all over everything and threw in some random rebels, women in bowler hats, clouds of mist, and the sound of pan flutes. Mix it all together and what you get is a very stereotypical—and incomplete—version of Peru.
One nice thing I’ll say about the film (this will be the first and last) is that the characters are a bit more fleshed out here than they are in the book. Matthew Settle plays the main character who has been given the name ‘John Woodson’. Unlike in the book, we actually get to see a physical representation of our hero, learn a little about him, and briefly observe him working with his students.
Just as the novel relies on constant references to energy and enlightenment, the film is riddled with bad New Age dialogue. You could invent a drinking game, like the one for Showgirls, based on it. Instead of taking a shot each time someone does pelvic thrusts or flashes ‘jazz hands’, you could drink whenever someone says they have a “feeling” something will happen or someone remarks, “maybe it means something.”
Finally, this column wouldn’t be complete without addressing the bad special effects. Lots of soft-focus lighting and swirling colors fill the screen whenever auras are seen or dreams occur. At the end of the film, the characters experience “heaven” and it’s just as you would expect: a place filled with transparent dead people glowing ethereally while clouds of dry ice roll in. I was half-expecting a unicorn to run into the picture. It also made me wondered if the movie had been on Lifetime at one time or another. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Armand Mastroianni directed a few episodes of Touched by an Angel.
I think I’ve made it pretty obvious that I won’t be reading Redfield’s sequels; The Tenth Insight or The Secret of Shambhala; In Search of the Eleventh Insight. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Redfield’s message of inner peace and sanctity; it’s just that I like my spirituality with a little less corniness and a lot more soul.