PFF25: Magicians: Life in the Impossible

Lacy Lew Nguyen Wright - November 1, 2016

If you’re looking to learn the secrets behind your favorite magic tricks, apologies, but this isn’t the movie for you. If you’re looking to find the magic in the profession, however, you’ve come to the right place.

Directors Marcie Hume, a long-time student of magic, and Christopher Baden, bring their deep respect for the trade and its secrets to Magicians: Life in the Impossible. Filmed over four years, Magicians: Life in the Impossible follows the lives of four professional magicians, each seeking legitimacy and recognition in a world that has long considered magic a side hobby done by street magicians. The lack of respect for the craft is palpable throughout the movie, with one magician even remarking about how most people who hear he’s a magician often ask, “Did you say musician?”

The film succeeds in capturing the magic tricks on film, without giving any hints to how they’re done. Hume has a few camera tricks up her sleeve in order to focus in on the tricks without revealing the secrets behind them. What really brings the magic to life is the music, composed by Will Blair, best known for his score for last year's Green Room. Blair creates motifs for each musician, which captures the individualized style of their tricks.

The sense of wonder you feel in watching these tricks is almost instantly shown on screen, with the film frequently showing the looks of awe on children’s faces as they watch these illusions, many for the first time. But it’s not just children who feel the wonder. From outlandish stage performances, to small and intimate card tricks, that childlike sense of wonder is mirrored in adults as well.

However, the enchantment isn’t without a dose of reality. Magicians delves into the careers of people who face different challenges in their careers. It acknowledges the lack of women in the field, with an interview from the documentary’s only female magician, Sisuepahn. As a woman, she feels held back in the profession because “men don’t like to be fooled by a woman”.

Equally tragic is the story of her performing partner, Brian Gillis, once a frequent guest on Johnny Carson, who has gone from performing in front of a national audience to performing at dinner tables, while he also gets kicked out of his former Magic Castle replica of a home.

In contrast, we see magician Jan Rouven, who has recently moved into his Vegas mansion, as he lands the dream of having a show on the Las Vegas strip, eventually performing at the Tropicana [he has since left after being arrested on charges of possession of child pornography]. Yet despite achieving what many would consider the dream, he is unhappy because there is nowhere left to climb.

Through storylines like these, the documentary confronts what we and these magicians consider success. What would success mean to each of these men? Is it when you are adored by the public? When you make it on television? On the Vegas Strip? When people light up when they see your performance? Or is it something closer to home, when your parents and loved ones recognize legitimacy in what you do?

Each magician makes sacrifices, both personal and professional, to follow their one constant passion. But this is a path filled with uncertainty for many of the magicians, many of whom don’t have an end goal. There is little glamor behind the scenes, as we watch the magicians’ relationships fall apart, as they hustle to try and stay afloat and seek to continue bringing their art to audiences. It is more than just skill that make the magic: it also relies on the personality of the performers. Magicians will have you falling in love with their stories, joining in their struggles, and possibly even reviving your belief in the unknown and mystical.

Lacy Lew Nguyen Wright

Lacy is a senior studying Art History and Urban Education Policy. And like her coffee she's small, strong but comes with a kick. Lacy covers documentaries and gender representation in media.