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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Magic in the Moonlight

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in a scene from the movie "Magic in the Moonlight."
Within the enchanting French Riviera setting of "Magic in the Moonlight" (Sony Pictures Classics), an age-old debate simmers between faith and reason, between a strictly rationalist standpoint and openness to divine providence.

Writer-director Woody Allen has always preferred nihilism to optimism, and this, his 44th film, does not vary in outlook. It's a pity, as his deeply cynical view toward matters spiritual sours what is otherwise a lovely travelogue with entertaining, if not particularly amusing, performances.

It's the Roaring Twenties in Berlin, and Stanley (Colin Firth) is a master illusionist. Posing as Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese magician, he wows audiences by sawing women in half and making a live elephant disappear.

Behind the scenes, Stanley is a nasty misanthrope, described by his friend and fellow conjurer, Howard (Simon McBurney), as "a genius with all the charm of a typhus epidemic."

Stanley has a sideline: debunker of spiritualists, charlatans who claim to communicate with the dead, defrauding innocent people in the process.

To Stanley, the world is only understood through science and logic. Anything to do with God, faith, or the afterlife is, he claims, "all phony, from the seance table to the Vatican and beyond."

It's no wonder he channels the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in stating, "If we are to get through life, we must delude ourselves." That's ironic, for a man who makes his living tricking audiences into believing anything is possible.

Howard persuades Stanley to accompany him to the south of France, where Grace (Jacki Weaver), a rich American widow, has become enchanted by her fellow countryman, comely clairvoyant Sophie (Emma Stone).

Arms flailing and shivering from "mental vibrations," the wide-eyed Sophie is a wonder to behold. After she "contacts" Grace's dead husband, Grace is ready to hand over the family fortune, and her smitten son, Brice (Hamish Linklater), proposes marriage.

This is all too much for Brice's sister, Caroline (Erica Leerhsen), and her psychiatrist husband, George (Jeremy Shamos). They bring in Howard and Stanley to expose Sophie as a trickster and fraud.

Predictably, Stanley's eyes are opened and his hard heart is melted by Sophie's charms and her rather convincing supernatural powers which, she insists, give hope to those who despair.

Mystified and lovesick, Stanley finds himself questioning his own narrow worldview, especially on matters of faith.

With his dearly loved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) lying gravely ill in the hospital, Stanley turns to God -- that "benevolent father figure out there" -- for help.

"I don't have all the answers," he prays. "It is possible that we are here by design, and you could be real."

It's a startling turnaround for an atheist. But as this is a Woody Allen film, there are twists in store. Suffice it to say that believing moviegoers will soon realize they've been led down an attractive but dead-end garden path.

The film contains a cynical view of faith and religion, brief sexual humor and mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Matthew: Matthew was a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman forces, collecting taxes from other Jews. The Romans were not scrupulous about what the "tax farmers" got for themselves. Hence the latter, known as "publicans," were generally hated as traitors by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees lumped them with "sinners" (see Matthew 9:11-13). So it was shocking to them to hear Jesus call such a man to be one of his intimate followers. 
<p>Matthew got Jesus in further trouble by having a sort of going-away party at his house. The Gospel tells us that "many" tax collectors and "those known as sinners" came to the dinner. The Pharisees were still more badly shocked. What business did the supposedly great teacher have associating with such immoral people? Jesus' answer was, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:12b-13). Jesus is not setting aside ritual and worship; he is saying that loving others is even more important. </p><p>No other particular incidents about Matthew are found in the New Testament.</p> American Catholic Blog The most appealing invitation to embrace the religious life is the witness of our own lives, the spirit in which we react to our divine calling, the completeness of our dedication, the generosity and cheerfulness of our service to God, the love we have for one another, the apostolic zeal with which we witness to Christ’s love for the poorest of the poor.

 
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