Sunday, September 22, 2013

Now You See Me -- illusions and deceptions

Director: Louis Leterrier, 2013 (PG-13)

Now You See Me is razzle-dazzle fun, a Vegas-type of entertainment: not much depth, but plenty of showmanship on display. Leterrier brings magic and hectic chase to the caper-heist genre and manages to captivate the attention despite the escalating ridiculousness and multiple plot holes.

The film focuses on four street magicians each given a mysterious summons to an obscure New York apartment where their lives are changed by an unknown benefactor. One year later they are calling themselves “The Four Horsemen” and playing a show in Vegas itself, a huge step-up for these illusionists.

Eight people share the spotlight in this film, none of whom have any real  depth of character. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, TheSocial Network) is an old-fashioned sleight-of-hand magician, and the apparent leader of the group. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher, Confessions of a Shopaholic), his former assistant, is a Houdini-like escape artist, but much prettier. Woody Harrelson plays Merritt McKinney, a mentalist or hypnotist, scamming adulterers to make a living. Dave Franco, brother of James, plays the fourth horseman, Jack Wilder, a street-wise con man. Helping them is millionaire businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Cain, Inception). Trying to catch them, however, is FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right) supported by beautiful Interpol Agemt Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent, Beginners). The final character is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, The Bucket List), a magician-turned-debunker, who now makes millions showing TV audiences how the magic tricks are pulled off. Bradley acts as a narrator of sorts, to help us the movie audience follow along. And this is needed, as the movie is quite complicated, with multiple twists and turns.

The Vegas show climaxes with a trick that has a random audience member, French as it turns out, teleported to his bank in Paris to pull off a multi-million Euro robbery. When the money is floated down over the Vegas audience, they applaud but the authorities are embarrassed. They cannot argue that a crime was perpetrated by magic. But they cannot understand how it was done. Hence they call in Bradley. And Rhodes does not want an Interpol agent on his team, but is forced to make do.

Two other flamboyant magic acts are queued up, each bigger and more deceptive than before. Each leads to further plot trickery.  But after act one, in essence the film becomes one long chase, with the FBI always one step behind. Along the way, a subordinate plot-line related to a supernatural group, “The Eye”, is introduced which makes little sense and adds little value, but the sheer energy and enthusiasm carries us along unthinkingly, as all good magic should.

When the climax occurs, the mysterious stranger from the introduction is revealed, and we want to reflect back on how it all played out. The film does this, to some degree, but not in enough detail. It warrants a second viewing, but that one might disappoint compared to seeing the magic of the first viewing. It’s all an illusion.

Indeed, J. Daniel Atlas tells the FBI (and hence us) this in several scenes. In one, he says, “What is magic? Focused deception. But deception meant to entertain.” In another he declares, “The more you look, the less you see.” And in another, “The closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.”

This concept reminds us of Satan, the great deceiver himself. “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14) He wants to tempt us to partake in the guilty pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25). Through this entertainment, we think we are enjoying ourselves, but in reality we are digging our own graves. Satan’s focused deception is intended to draw our attention away from Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1).  The more we look at Satan’s glitzy baubles tantalizingly dangled in front of our faces, the less we see. But we become blinded to the truth. Only in and through Jesus, can Satan’s magic be exposed for what it really is: an illusion. Unlike Now You See Me, Satan’s great deception in life ultimately leads to death. A second viewing is not what is needed. A savior is. 

Copyright ©2013, Martin Baggs

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