But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back.”
“Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:15)
Mary Magdalene weeps. She weeps like a schoolboy that has just seen the magician make the bird disappear. She weeps as one “without hope” (Thess 4:13). She’s seen her Lord and Savior crucified, she’s seen them carry Him away, and she just wants to know what they did with His body. It’s not such a great moment for Mary, but if you’re the magician, this is the best part.
This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Hell, this is probably the moment that the phrase “this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for” came from. It’s the third, final, and most powerful act of the greatest magic trick there’s ever been. It’s the moment that washes away the darkness, the confusion, the despair, the chaos, and the madness of The Turn. Something has disappeared, and that something is about to come back.
You remember that time when I faked my own death? You were like: Oh no, Jesus is dead! And I was like: Lolz jk.
When I was in high school, I learned all about this. Every year, my school held a Passion Play, the story of salvation. It was serious, man. I’m talking full-out costumes, live lambs, a sword on fire for the angel driving Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the whole shebang. One year, I played Jesus. Never mind that Jesus that year was particularly interested in one of the angels, just keep focus here. The point is that out of all of them, the Resurrection was the finest moment.
When the stone rolls away, Jesus comes out of the tomb to thunderous applause, surrounded by a fog of dry ice and flashing lights, at the same time that the lyrics “Arise arise” are shouted from the loudspeakers. This lets the crowd know that, despite their wildest dreams and their darkest fears, Jesus is alive, having overcome all odds, having been to hell and back, returning in power and glory to be the risen Savior.
The Super Bowl Halftime Show and the Resurrection sure have a lot in common.
The magician shows you something ordinary. Then he makes it do something extraordinary, like rise off the ground, shape shift, disappear entirely, or even die. The magician takes you through this entire range of emotions and at the end, you’re truly satisfied because you’ve been provided with a show of the wonderment of the universe. You’ve been taken advantage of and bamboozled, which is exactly what you came for. This is the last of the substantial observations from Michael Caine’s opening and ending monologues.
Magic depends on the desire of the audience, akin to that insane child on a tricycle in The Incredibles, to see “something amazing”. So does religion. It’s not that perfectly reasonable and understanding adults cannot figure out that something like Noah’s Ark is clearly fiction. It’s that our desire to see the impossible is being taken advantage of. The same is true of watching Marvel and DC movies with heroes who perform feats impossible to believe. Or reading a book about a boy who has a shitty life under a cupboard, until he finds that he’s really the most special.
Now you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it, because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.
What we crave is a story that tells us that all the things that we swear are impossible are really the true ones, that our reservations are baseless, and that the truly fantastic can happen. The point of The Prestige is to ask why we ever doubted, why we are crying, and then give us the proof we so desperately need, the proof that magic is real. And that’s why we repeat this story over and over. Batman, Harry Potter, The Lion King, Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, Hercules, etc. The hero either dies for his people or disappears from them, but he always makes it back. The king always returns.
At the end of the day, I know why atheist voices are so opposed. It’s because we’re spoiling the trick. And I suspect that millions of Christians understand in their hearts what us atheists say out loud, that snakes don’t talk, that God doesn’t really exist, and that people don’t come back from the dead.
But it really is a great trick.
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