Magic in the moonlight is one such movie where the viewers are divided into two sides from the get go. One side pertains to the heart and the other to the head. One concerns logic and the other mystic. One relates to cynicism and the other of course to optimism. As is the main theme to many of his movies, Woody strikes yet again with another thought provoking work of genius.
Set in very Gatsby-esque scenes in the South of France, the film surrounds a wealthy family, a world famous magician and a clairvoyant. In the affluent Catledge family we have the widowed mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), romantically naive son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline (Erica Leerhsen). Enjoying a great deal of appreciation for his acts as a world class Chinese conjurer going by the stage name of Wei Ling Soo, not many know that the real Wei Ling Soo is a disguise of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) an arrogant Englishman with sky high opinions of himself and a natural dislike towards phony spiritualists and optimists. When Stanley is convinced by his friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) a not so well known magician, to unmask the clairvoyant, Stanley immediately agrees to do so. He presents himself as a businessman named Stanley Taplinger in order to debunk the alluring young spirit medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden).
Sophie arrived at the Catledge villa at the invitation of Grace, who is convinced that Sophie can help her contact her late husband, and once there, attracted the attention of Brice, who has fallen for her head over heels. What follows are series of magical events that sends the characters and audience whirling. In the climax lies the biggest trick of all. Not even the critics could’ve thought of that.
Stanley (Colin Firth) is a middle aged skeptic, a scientific and a logical man. He does not believe in paranormal activities and is very argumentative on the subjects of magic and spiritual being. Sophie (Emma Stone) on the other hand is a young, cheerful, mystical spirit medium who believes in after life and the goodness in everything. The film revolves around how Stanley tries to debunk Sophie and prove for once and for all that there is not more than meets the eye; that we are born and even after committing no sins are still sentenced to death and that there is no God. But could she be the real deal? Will she be able to spark a change in Stanly with her beautiful gift?
Many have argued about the casting choice of the main leads (Firth and Stone) due to the age discrepancies, but I feel that it couldn’t have been better: he must be old enough to develop his pessimistic ways, and she must be young and beautiful enough to defy them at first sight.
There is no denying that there are all kinds of people present in this planet- the mystics, pragmatic, happy, unhappy, believers and non-believers. The point that Woody wants to make is in an interrogative form, which is that: whether the unhappy nonbelievers have really made science and proofs as their defence mechanism to prevent themselves from irrationally falling in love? The way the movie tries to entangle the web of materialism and mystery, of rationale and irrational is where the beauty of the filmmaker that is Woody Allen, cannot be unseen or critiqued.
Our world has reached a point where it holds Science as the ultimate power. We live in a materialistic world with conservative views- views which believe that modern science has completely eliminated the slightest of possibility of spirit, the hereafter and God Almighty. This is what this movie tries to showcase and also examines to discover the psychological relationship between accepting that world-view, and being pessimistic and unhappy.
Dealing with such heavy subjects like religion, philosophy, love and the universe and then presenting them with such ease that it looks good and enjoyable but still manages to engross the audience with the questions that he himself is searching for through his art; this is what true magic is like on a big screen and Woody is not new to that. Many are not able to see that and I feel sorry for them.
Actors casted for the movie did their job so well that you cannot imagine anyone else doing these roles. The part of Aunt Vanessa played by the very talented Eileen Atkins is sheer perfection. Movie’s soundtrack is what anyone would expect form an Allen classic. The cinematography, capturing the beautiful landscapes of French Riviera on reel is done splendidly by Darius Khondji who was nominated for Lumiere Awards, France 2015.
The movie scores a decent rating on major reviews but who is to say what’s right, right?