You’d think it would be a good thing: you go to a Romantic Comedy with Colin Firth as the male lead and your wife looks at you in a way that says very, very clearly that Colin Firth reminds her of you. So much of a good thing that you’d spend the next hour waiting for the movie to be over so that you could prove to your wife just how much like Colin Firth you can be.
It’s not such a good thing when the movie is Woody Allen’s “Magic In The Moonlight” and Colin Firth is playing Stanley Crawford, an English magician in the 1920s who is called in to debunk Sophie, a young spiritualist who is connecting a very wealthy widow with her dead husband. Stanley believes he has been selected for the role of debunker because of the way he thinks. He says of himself “I’m a rational man with a rational world view. Any other way lies madness.”
Like me, Stanley is an atheist who believes that there is no after-life, that the need to believe in one is childish, that life is largely pointless, that sustaining happiness requires one to cultivate a capacity for wilful self-deception and that the universe is fundamentally unfair. As he puts it, “You’re born, you commit no crime, and then you’re sentenced to death.”
Unfortunately, as well as being a rational man, Stanley is also a pompous, smug, intellectually over-bearing man, prone to lecturing others on the merits of atheism as if he had invented it himself. His social skills reside primarily in having an impeccable taste in clothes.
From the moment he arrives at the Riviera home of the wealthy widow, he launches into a harangues about the stupidity of belief, causing his friend Howard, who brought him to the house, to remark, “Congratulations, Stanley. You’ve been here ten minutes and you’ve already alienated the entire household.”
It was at this point that my wife started to look at me meaningfully.
It is true that I’m sometimes prone to stating my atheist viewpoint forcefully. I frequently advise people to look for the LIE in the middle of beLIEve. I have no malicious intent. It’s just that I often find myself staggered by the self-serving mysticism that people who, in all other regards, demonstrate education, good taste and intelligence, will allow themselves to wallow in. Well, OK, that doesn’t sound so good now that I’ve listened to Firth being a pompous ass and using many of my own arguments to demonstrate this trait.
So there I was in the cinema, feeling that Woody Allen had set me up. For the first time I could see myself as Colin Firth and I so wished I couldn’t.
Then I realised that the real message for me to take away was an enhanced appreciation of how lucky I am that my wife puts up with me.
“Magic In The Moonlight” is a beautiful movie with great actors with not quite enough script to work with. If you decide to watch it, think kindly of Stanley, I can tell you with certainty that he just can’t help himself.