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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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Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows: Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, he lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life. Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
<p>Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
</p><p>His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old.
</p><p>Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.</p> American Catholic Blog Life is not always happy, but our connections to others can create a simple and grace-filled quiet celebration of our own and others’ lives. These others are the presence of Christ in our lives.


 
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