Saturday, 20 September 2008

Review: Derren Brown's Messiah

Yes, Dear Reader, I know this show came out 3 years ago but even so I've only just seen it and I think it is a show anyone, who truly wants to understand certain paranormal and religious experiences, should want watch.

I've seen Derren Brown live and one of the things I really enjoyed about his live show was his honesty. He did crazy, impossible things but left you with no doubt that this wasn't the work of real magic nor anything supernatural but a trick. An amazing, astounding trick, let's not dismiss it, but he did not pretend to have anything other than the ability to deceive and to control the human mind. For me that made the show all the more interesting.

And it's the same with Messiah. Derren Brown set out to visit America and see if he could fool 5 experts in 5 different fields into giving him their personal endorsements.

His first stop was to visit some psychics. He had one go into another room out of sight but within speaking range. They were to draw several images on paper and he was going to relate to the other psychics what he thought they had drawn. He used subtle manipulation in his conversation with the woman in the other room to suggest images which she then drew, completely without realising what he was doing to her. For example, on one occasion when Brown was telling the participant to draw the next picture, he instructed the lady to "let some ideas sail into your mind" and not to go "overboard on detail". She then drew a boat on water. Despite this all being a trick the psychics completely accepted him and did not once question him on his veracity. He had stated throughout that if they did he would immediately come clean to them that he was a charlatan.

His next stop was to visit an evangelical preacher. He pretended he was a recent convert to Christianity who had the power to convert people by the merest touch. To prove to this preacher his abilties he gathered together a group of agnostics, atheists and sceptics and, using subtle manipulation techniques which I was unable to fathom, set about converting them to Christianity in short order. This was good old revival type stuff with people falling over into his arms and into their seats. One girl described getting a warm "inner hug" when he touched her face. The audience were convinced and the preacher was impressed but wanted to meet him again before endorsing him. Don't worry, Dear Reader, he deprogrammed the new convertees back to their old beliefs afterwards!

Next he visited a new age guru, where he claimed to have invented a dream catching machine which would record her dreams. When he put it on he seemingly related all her dreams for the last 5 days back to her, in minute detail. Again it was all about manipulation and influence over the subject. Did this make it any less impressive? Absolutely not. And she was so convinced she gave her endorsement of his abilities.

His fourth stop was to two very nice UFO researchers. He claimed to be an abductee and that since returning to Earth he now had the ability to see people's medical history. He went into minute detail again about one of them and they were totally blown away by his ability. They called for him to be brought to the attention of the most esteemed scientific journals in the land. He again gained their endorsement despite it all being a trick again.

His final stop was one he wasn't entirely comfortable with. He gathered a group of New York sceptics together to give them messages from the dead, all to impress a leader of a spiritualist church. Did him impressive one and all? Of course he did, much to his obvious discomfort as some descended into tears at the accuracy of his readings. I've seen him do this one live and I have to say it was good in an awful way even when he was upfront about it all being a lie. This took it down to a very uncomfortable level of deception. But I felt it was for a worthy cause.

That cause? Derren Brown had set out to show that believers will always pick up on what they want to believe and will be unlikely to dismiss contrary evidence without it being brought up to them directly. He ended the programme stating not that he wanted to insult others beliefs but that he did want those who believe, in pretty much anything, to always question and analyse their beliefs and not be blind to evidence that might be uncomfortable to them.

I think that's something we can all agree on. I absolutely must ask you to go and watch it for yourself, as always Youtube is our saviour and part one can be found here.

Further Reading

Tricks of the Mind - Derren Brown - A book with similar themes to the show.

1 comment:

Ken said...

I'll have to hunt down this book. I've been a bit of a fan of his for years now.