Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I always feel a sense of ambiguity after finishing a Woody Allen film, perhaps because he rarely sets out to make a point as a filmmaker but rather leaves his audience a great deal to think about. He promotes discussion and Magic in the Moonlight is no exception.
Stanley (Colin Firth) is the most successful magician in the business. He is a master artist known for his inventive and brilliant illusions, who pretends to be a Chinaman on stage in order to keep his identity a secret. On the side, he enjoys debunking spiritualists and mediums. He also has an abrasive personality that makes most people sorry to have met his acquaintance.
When an old magician friend comes to him for assistance, having been stumped by a medium, Stanley is only too happy to travel abroad, meet this woman, and shred her as a fake. Problem is, once he arrives, Sophie (Emma Stone) rather ... captures his imagination. She's good. Really good. So good, in fact, that she might be the real deal ... a true psychic, which means that all his former assumptions about this being "all there is to life" might be wrong after all. Stanley is faced with a crisis around Sophie: to believe and change all his perceptions, admitting to the entire world that he was wrong, or to prove that she is somehow, masterfully, pulling off the biggest fake medium gig in history.
And this is all before his emotions get involved...
Exploring the theology of this film risks revealing plot twists, so I will say merely that Allen's agnosticism is woven throughout. Stanley at one point attempts to pray and then decides it's all bunkum, because he doesn't believe in God. There is a weird blend of theology here, including the idea that if an afterlife exists and we can communicate with it, God must exist by proxy (how this conclusion is reached, I have no idea -- ghosts = God exists?). There is plenty of psychic material here, including floating candles and several séance scenes, but they are dealt with through skepticism. The film uses faith and ghosts as a mainstay while actually being an unconventional love story between a free-thinking girl who enjoys what life has to offer and the grouchy, un-personable, unlikable Stanley. Firth pulls out all the stops and seems to enjoy being someone who ruins people's lives one insult at a time, while Stone is luminous and charming (as usual) as the ray of sunshine in his gloom-filled life.
Though it didn't quite captivate me as much as some of his other stories, it's unique, quirky, and thought provoking, while also being quite cute in many ways. It's a keeper.
A medium reveals that a woman had a love affair with a married man.
A handful of profanities and several abuses of God's name.
Many scenes involve séances (candles float, noises are heard, tables move) and revolve around Sophie's psychic abilities.