Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

The seen and the unseen are fair enough themes, particularly for a filmmaker in the latter stage of his career. And the protagonist of Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, a magician and skeptic named Stanley (Colin Firth) who is a master of illusion and who falls for a medium Sophie (Emma Stone) who is a charlatan (from Kalamazoo no less) is the perfect spokesman for the conflict between reason and faith. Ultimately the desire for happiness that comes from belief is the theme that Stanley, or Wei Ling Soo as he calls himself when he dons his Chinese costume and performs his act, is grappling with. Allen is in good company if we remember that Eliot satirized the clairvoyant Madame Blavatsky in “The Wasteland.” Allen’s comedies present a pantheon of well-meaning souls to parody, but Magic in the Moonlight aspires for something more. “I’m a rational man living in a rational world,” Stanley says. “Any other way is madness.” Stanley is the Henry Higgins to Sophie’s street smart Eliza Doolittle who declares “Just because you are duplicating my miracles doesn’t prove they are not real.” But as in Shaw the scientific method fails to win out. Would that the director could have used his considerable talents to turn the hackneyed nature of the film’s l920’s South of France setting to his advantage! At first you think he’s going to flip things around and then you realize that he’s jumping in lock stock and barrel, including expropriating a Dick Diver type Freudian who tries to get his analytic claws into Stanley in the same way that Stanley attempts to debunk Sophie’s spiritual chicanery. Nietzsche said,  “Please don’t destroy people’s lies, their illusions, because if you destroy their illusions, they won’t be able to live at all... .” It’s a sentiment which gets some air time in the film. But man also needs the willing suspension of disbelief in order to buy characters and a setting. While Magic in the Moonlight is full of wonderful ideas, that one might hope Allen would return to, it’s self-conscious dialogue and disquisition end up creating little more than a leaden period piece.

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