Prophetic Deer

Joanna Biggs · Jacques Audiard and Anne Carson

Tahar Rahim as Malik El Djebena

Tahar Rahim as Malik El Djebena

Jacques Audiard’s new film, A Prophet (which won the Grand Prix at Cannes and best film at the London Film Festival), is a prison thriller, yes, but an odd one. In the best scene our hero, Malik, is handcuffed in a car, being taken by a rival gang through the countryside near Marseille to the beach for negotiations (he’s on day release). The rival gang’s leader, Lattrache, isn’t sure of him: why is an Arab working for the Corsicans? Unsatisfactory answers bring Lattrache’s gun closer to Malik’s neck. Lattrache asks about a friend of his who died in prison (at our hero’s hands) – does Malik know anything about it? Who did it? Just as Malik is on the point of incriminating himself, he shouts ‘Animal!’ and a deer crashes into the windscreen. The camera follows the spinning body in slow motion as it arcs to the ground. Lattrache can’t believe it: ‘Are you a prophet or what?’

In Anne Carson’s poem ‘Deer (not a play)’, published in the LRB in 2007, the deer really is a sort of prophet. We are in the English countryside, and Jimi Hendrix is chatting to his limo driver on the way to Heathrow. This deer ‘can see/310/degrees around every lick’.

‘What is it about deer?’ the limo driver says.

‘…’ Jimi says, quite rightly.

The deer come from nowhere to change everything. They are meant to be mysteries. Or lunch (these are French gangs, after all): after Lattrache and his men uncuff our hero, they turn their guns on the deer and put its corpse in the boot instead of Malik’s. At the coast, with the rival gangs reconciled and ready to do some business about a casino, Lattrache’s mother washes Malik’s bloody shirt (it will not come clean) and Lattrache washes the side of venison in the sea and hangs it to dry on a hook.


  • 19 November 2009 at 12:06pm
    Doghouse says:
    I'm sorry to do it, but we must mention Hideo Nakata and quite possibly the most overt use of a prophetic deer in his film 'The Ring Two'.

    First the disturbed young boy has a brief staring competition with a deer at a fairground. Unsettling and completely random: we can only wonder what is to come. And we are not disappointed.

    Watch out, it's very subtle.

    The Ring Two - Chevreuils en passant

  • 7 December 2009 at 1:44am
    LBarrett says:
    The prophetic deer can also be seen being roundly mocked in the recent Megan Fox vehicle “Jennifer’s Body”. Fox’s character, Jennifer, a demon-possessed, boy-killing, blood-drinking, small town cheerleader, lures the school’s football captain into a nearby wood. Just before disembowelling him a crow distractingly arrives on the scene (another favourite prophetic animal), followed by a deer, followed then a full menagerie of forest creatures, including an enthusiastic looking beaver and a raccoon that appears to be licking its chops. The deer is later seen nibbling at the deceased football captain’s innards – not preferred deer fare I don’t think, but the scene drives home the writer (Diablo Cody) and director (Karyn Kusama’s) point: the prophetic animal (particularly the crow or deer) is a horror film cliché. However, both animals are still used as prophetic signs with deep sincerity by some film makers - see the soon-to-be-released "The Descent: Part 2" for another, new, strongly-felt appearance by the prophetic deer.

    • 7 December 2009 at 5:05pm
      requiemapache says: @ LBarrett
      Although not strictly speaking a sub species of the deer, the Elk has nevertheless played a similar crucial role in twentieth century cultural semantics.

      The infamous "Elk Test" of 1997 where a motoring journalist flipped the new Mercedes A Class and precipitated a full recall and overhaul of the handling system, must surely count as one of the more costly poetic interventions in a pastoral setting ever. The test itself simulates cruising along at 45 - 50mph "awake at the wheel" as Andrew O'Hagan put it ( and then swerving to avoid a punctum like elk suddenly distrupting the scene.

      Nobody else in the motor industry seemed to have thought of testing for Elk evasion and history does not relate how grateful Mercedes were that somebody did. The overhaul caused by an imagined Elk however, prevented chronic understeer by a new front wheel drive marque and led to around 100'000 being sold in the U.K to date.

      Even when a deer-like creature doesn't actually exist, it's amazing how much influence they can exert.