Monday, February 24, 2014

Now You See Me -- Or Do You?

I am easily delighted. I'm also easily entertained, though when I was little, hearing the words, "I'm bored," exit my mouth was my mother's cue to reach for the Bayer (aspirin). My attention could be as difficult to hold as a kid's hand in an amusement park. I loved the films Houdini (1953) and The Great Imposter (1961), starring Tony Curtis, and still do. Both were about illusion, magic, "now you see it -- now you don't." The impossible becoming possible with the blink of an eye.

I remember seeing my first and only, sword-swallower in a traveling circus when I was five or six. We lived in the country, as I've mentioned before, and a circus, with three rings under the bigtop, arrived at our local fair grounds. They had all the acts you associate with larger operations like Ringling Brothers or the Shrine Circus, including a fellow who had himself shot out of a canon. A young, pretty, blond-haired girl astride a dappled Welsh pony, stole my heart and galloped through my fantasies for weeks afterward (sigh). 

I saw my first "Punch and Judy" puppets the same night, in the side-show. I remember how a devilish puppet, clad in black, crept onto the stage to scare Punch. With a menacing voice, he said, "I am the Devil." Punch responded, sarcastically, "Well, you look like the devil!" I'd heard my mother use that phrase often enough to get the hint. When Punch and Judy appear in The Santa Clause (1994) each Christmas, my mind replays that evening.

Anyway, like I said, that's also where I saw my first sword-swallower. He stood next to Punch and Judy's stage, and with great flourish, proceeded to swallow a decorative sword which he said was "only a toy," and then what he insisted was a "real" blade. He even stepped behind a flouroscope so the audience could see the instrument of death inserted vertically through his mouth with the tip resting benignly in the curve of his stomach. When medical school and gross anatomy entered my life a few centuries later, I realized there was no way on earth that sword could have done what the flouroscope displayed. It was a "trick," an illusion, but one that delighted me as a child and continues to do so when I think of it.

I'm certain this is why I love the film Now You See Me (2013) with an ensemble cast including Jessie Eisenberg, one of my favorite new actors. It just delights me. The story revolves around four magicians who have been mysteriously contacted about membership in a secret society called The Eye, which is dedicated to preserving pure magic, righting wrongs, and overcoming injustice. As the plot moves forward, it includes tricks worthy of David Copperfield, slight of hand, hypnosis, and has the lead characters pursued by the FBI. Honestly, I could scarcely contain my inner child the first time "we" saw it.

Some have described Now You See Me as evidence The Illuminati have taken over Hollywood in an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes, deceive our better judgment, and secretly promote a "New World Order." Critics proclaimed the film's illusions were unrealistic and its ending unsatisfying. Personally, I wonder if we were watching the same film. I was captivated from the outset and couldn't wait for the credits to roll before hitting the restart button. Once was not enough and the second, third, and fourth viewings triggered my sense of delight as readily as the first.

Now You See Me isn't merely a story -- it's a yarn, a rambling and implausible tale, according to the Concise Oxford, though the film doesn't ramble and any implausibility lies in the eye of the beholder. There is no moral, such as you'd expect from a fable, but it does make a point, i.e. the ego can be so wrapped up in its own perceptions that it prevents us from realizing we're one, two, three steps behind what's taking place right in front of our us. I've been there, haven't you?

It also reminds us that to be captivated by wonder, we need to have a little faith, to suspend our natural disbelief, and be willing to trust. Not everything needs to be explained, as the film urges, and some things are best left unexplained. I'd agree, particularly when they make us feel like children, fascinated by what defies reason and once again, believing that anything and everything is possible.

(Creative Commons Image by ictusoculi via Flickr)
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