20 August 2014 | emvan
A Widely and Profoundly Misunderstood Gem
Most viewers are taking this film as a conventional (and admittedly entirely predictable) romantic comedy which happens to be about a magician who debunks fake spirit mediums, and a beautiful young woman whom he believes is just that. But that's getting it *entirely backwards*. It is in fact a thought-provoking exploration of the extreme materialistic worldview -- the view that holds that modern science has eliminated the possibility of the existence of the soul, an afterlife, and God -- and an exploration of the psychological relationship between embracing that worldview, and being pessimistic and unhappy. As such, it is one of Allen's most personal and thought-provoking films in years.
And if that sounds "heavy," the miracle of the movie is its very lightness. Obviously, the themes enter in so effortlessly that many people are missing them entirely! You need to be interested in the tension between the materialist worldview and the conventional one that accommodates the spiritual and the mysterious, but if you are, you will be astonished at how delightful and entertaining an exploration of those deep themes can be.
The age discrepancy between Frith's and Stone's characters, which I am sure will bother many, is in fact completely necessary: he must be old enough to be set in his pessimistic ways, and she must be young and beautiful enough to challenge them at first sight.
Obviously there are happy atheists and there are miserable spiritual people, so the question that Allen is asking here is whether some unhappy atheists have embraced the soul- and God-denying position too vigorously, as a sort of defense mechanism to shield themselves from the fundamentally irrational possibility of falling in love. The way the movie knits together the materialist / spiritualist question, the possibility of love, and the metaphor of magic -- well, it's sheer magic itself.
This is far from Allen's funniest movie, and it's only a 7/10 as entertainment. But not only does it easily gain an extra point for its depth, it almost gains two. Admittedly, I am fascinated by the movie's themes, but I think that anyone who is interested in them may find themselves as charmed and, ultimately, as deeply moved as I was. 89/100.