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Practical magic


Magic in the Moonlight (PG). Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Eileen Atkins, Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Jacki Weaver. 98 minutes.

Stanley (Colin Firth) is a spiritual debunker and magician. Believing that he has pretty well achieved expert status on life, and on the ways in which human beings can delude or be deluded, he uses this intelligence to make money. As a magician he deludes willing audiences for entertainment, and as a debunker he ousts those who make money by deluding the gullible and vulnerable such as purported clairvoyants, mystics and the like.

Stanley doesn't dream; what is the point? He doesn't see the possibilities in front of him. He only sees the things that affirm his pessimism about the human condition. His pragmatism comes in like a sledgehammer, quickly taking any sense of wonderment to task.

Enter Sophie (Emma Stone), a beautiful, charming young mystic who predicts the unpredictable and communicates with the dead – for a price. Stanley is brought in by a rich American family to expose Sophie, whom they believe has misled them. But when the two meet, an undeniable chemical reaction — magic, minus the 'abracadabra' — ensues.

This film is enchanting, full of comedy, cute dialogue and charming scenery, and featuring pitch perfect performances by Stone and Firth. The premise itself is both fun and thoughtful. In the end it's a film all about one's view, the lens through which one chooses to see the world. Cynicism or wonder? Mayhem or magic? Have you ever looked up at the stars and marveled at the mystery?

The film's exploration of questions regarding the existence of God is particularly engaging. At one point Stanley, despite being a staunch non-believer, begins to pray. In worry and uncertainty, he lets his guard down and surrenders to a potential power that he cannot understand or see. It is a rare moment of vulnerability.

Stanley's cynicism, pragmatism and pessimism all help him to avoid feeling vulnerable. But they have not protected him from life, its uncertainties and pain. Perhaps looking at life through a calculated and methodical lens cannot offer any more predictability than looking at it with a sense of magic. This film poses the question: Which way brings more joy?

The wit of writer-director Woody Allen sparkles through these charming characters and engaging storyline. The film is populated by lovable characters who, even when they do wrong, are never dark but simply human. There is a lightness to the film but also a lot to stimulate thinking and conversation.

There's money in magic for sure. There's also something magical about the ways in which some people make money. Money, after all, is what allows you to live, or to go see this film for example. Sophie cannot deny the practical realities that dictate her decisions. Equally, Stanley cannot deny the emotions of the heart that mysteriously ignore practicality, attraction that doesn't follow physics or any other scientific law, or moments of coincidence that have significant effects.

This tension between the two worldviews and their contradictions is a balancing act and it's beautifully done. We all know life is better with a little magic. And while we are all afraid of the unknown, complete certainty and predictability do not make for a vibrant life. In fact, without the mystery inherent in unknowable possibilities, there is really no life at all.

Megan GrahamMegan Graham won the 2013 Margaret Dooley Award for Young Writers.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, Woody Allen, Magic in the Moonlight, magic, film review



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Existing comments

There's no doubt that Woody Allen is a brilliant film-maker, despite uncertainties about his private life. His films, enchanting as they are, explore angst and uncertainty. An, at times, unsettling combination. This one will be worth seeing and thanks for a perceptive review Megan.

Pam | 28 August 2014  

Thanks, Megan. Looking forward to seeing the movie, thanks to your review. Maybe there's something about the sacramental there, too - the ephemeral though essential balance between mystery and dogma..

Joan Seymour | 28 August 2014  

You might have mentioned that the film is also a takeoff (and not a particularly good one) of Pride and Prejudice!

Caroline | 29 August 2014  

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