Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie Now You See Me and plan to, you probably don’t want to read this until you’ve seen the movie.
I recently watched Now You See Me, and I loved it. It’s clever, funny, features a fair amount of action, and comes with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s a winning formula. If you liked Ocean’s 11/12/13 or The Italian Job, you’ll probably be into Now You See Me.
The movie features four talented magicians, who are collected into a single act by an unknown ringleader. Though each magician has been accustomed to working alone, they work perfectly together in extremely complicated and dangerous tasks as they perform magic tricks on stage. These tricks, however, involve robbing a bank during a show and distributing the money to the crowd, hacking into a wealthy sponsor’s bank account and forwarding the funds to audience members’ accounts, and stealing a safe and showering the money upon a large outdoor crowd.
It’s Robin Hood with a deck of cards rather than a bow and arrows. And no tights. These magicians steal from the wealthy and pass out the funds to their theoretically poor audiences. And they do it with style. I really enjoyed watching this movie.
But here’s the thing. Even though the movie is really cool, relatively clean, and very entertaining (did I mention I loved it?), it teaches something. All movies teach us. We think of movies as entertainment, but they give us a two hour view of the world through the eyes of one or more character, through the eyes of a director, a writer, a film studio, etc.
In the case of Now You See Me, the movie teaches something unchristian. While there is much to praise and enjoy about the movie, when the plot comes together, you find that the all of the spectacular events in the movie were motivated by revenge.
It’s subtle. Like a magic trick. The mysterious ringleader (unidentified until the last scenes), lost his magician father when his attempt to escape from a safe dropped into a river went bad. So the events of the film enact this son’s revenge. He doesn’t kill anyone, but he steals money from the insurance company and bank that didn’t pay out on his father’s life insurance policy, as well as the manufacturing company that built the sub-standard safe that malfunctioned and therefore entombed his father. He also gets the man who prodded his father into the daring trick imprisoned.
The potential upside to all of this is that these four individualistic magicians learn to work together—a dynamic that the film calls attention to. But in reality, they are working together in order to become famous. That’s their entire motivation, and there’s no hint that any of them acted altruistically. The film also tries to soften the revenge theme by having the main character fall unexpectedly in love. But when his newfound love finds out the truth about what he’s done, she merely smiles and vows to lock the secret away forever.
Don’t get me wrong. I really liked this movie. I’m sure I’ll watch it again. And there’s a sense in which this movie tells the truth. People are highly motivated by fame and revenge. The problem I’m having is, these terrible motivations are rewarded in the film. There’s no hint that this is not the best way to live. In fact, I found myself liking the way the main character took his revenge. Whoops.
The fact of the matter is, good movies can teach bad things. And bad movies can teach good things. The point is not to avoid a great movie like Now You See Me. The point is to think critically about what our movies are telling us and how they are moving us.
The goal is first to enjoy the movie as a movie, be moved in the ways the filmmakers wanted you to be moved, and then to contemplate how your biblical worldview ought to come to bear on that film. What is good and true and can be affirmed? What is false and ugly and must be rejected? And how can we live in this world more effectively in light of what we’ve just seen?