James O. (JimOverby3) from TULSA, OK Reviewed on 8/10/2013...
Excellent movie which raises the question of the meaning of the word "Reality". Explores perception vs observation. Good cast and "professionally Hollywood" done technically.
Hey. It was the '60's!
Pierre Normand | College Station, Texas, USA | 10/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"---I first saw this movie at the theater my second year of college (1968-69) in Texas. At that time, it being the late 1960's, it seemed perfectly normal to me that it was complex and confusing. It was psychedelic. How can anyone who enjoyed the Beatles "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Magical Mystery Tour," and the "White Album," not to mention The Doors' "Strange Days," or Iron Butterfly's "Inagodadavida" (sp?), complain about a movie that is confusing? ---Nicholas Urfe (Michael Caine) accepts a job as an English teacher at a private boys school on the idyllic Greek island of Phraxos. As he settles into his room, he finds a cryptic note left in a drawer by his predecessor who had committed suicide. The note reads "beware the waiting room." On the weekends Urfe explores the far side of the island and discovers the villa of the mysterious Maurice Conchis (Anthony Quinn) who invites him for weekend visits where Conchis entertains Urfe with his life story. In these stories of his past, Conchis presents to Urfe major dilemmas where the choices are life-changing. Subsequently, in a series of "Twilight Zonesque" time shifts, Urfe finds himself trapped into reliving these same stories and being forced to make the same life-changing choices. The effect is, well, "mind-blowing," both for the character Urfe, and for the viewer. Is Urfe hallucinating or dreaming, or is this a well-planned masque, directed by the "master-manipulator" Conchis, where Urfe is unwillingly cast as the central character? ---I guess my take on it is that the mind-blowing nature of the film fit very well with the zeitgeist of the late 1960's. The film itself may be lacking, but the greater story, only partly told in an abbreviated version in this movie, is much, much better than could ever be captured on film. Instinctively, I knew this and sought out the book in the Fall of 1969. I found it at Doubleday Bookstore in New York City while visiting for the Texas A&M vs. Westpoint football game. The book helped me survive the long, cold, rainy winter of 1969-70, as I was manipulated into making life-changing decisions -- school vs. Vietnam, girls vs. grades, polyester vs. cotton, Santana vs. Led Zeppelin, etc. etc. etc. As Nicholas Urfe rode the roller coaster of his life, so did we. ---I'm glad to see that the movie is in video."
Why Novelists Should Never Write Their Own Screenplays
Tom S. | New York City | 10/18/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
This film is intriguing at first, and it's beautiful to look at, but it's a bit of a mess. The problem is simple: John Fowles, the author of the famous novel, decided to write his own screen adaptation. He apparently hated the screen version of his other novel, THE COLLECTOR, three years earlier, and he didn't want Hollywood to botch THE MAGUS. Well, they did botch it--and it's entirely his own fault.
THE MAGUS is a novel of ideas, not action. The flimsy story and symbolic characters (Urfe rhymes with "earth," Conchis is pronounced "conscious" which means "alive," the lily in Anne's lucky paperweight becomes "Lily," the girl on the island, etc.) are only there to serve up a large dose of Fowles's philosophy--basically, that life is a dream and love is the only reality. But it isn't exactly photogenic, and Fowles the screenwriter has taken Fowles the novelist entirely too literally. What we get is a page-by-page adaptation of a talky, elliptical, difficult book. If Michael Caine (Urfe/earth), Anthony Quinn (Conchis/life), and Candice Bergen (Lily/love) look uncomfortable, or even downright confused, who can blame them? They were asked to play symbols, not characters, and to say and do things that couldn't possibly make sense to anyone unfamiliar with the novel. A film is not a novel, and vice versa.
Bottom line: read the wonderful novel, then tackle the film. Or skip the film entirely. The screenwriter doesn't seem to understand the novelist, despite the fact that they're the same person. And that is why we have professional screenwriters. I'm glad Fowles allowed Harold Pinter to do the screenplay for the film of his next novel, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. Now, there's a movie that does justice to the source material. But as for THE MAGUS, well...."
What Might Have Been
R. Kevin Hill | Portland, OR | 05/28/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"One of the reviewers mentioned David Lynch. I recall waiting with anticipation for the film adaptation of _Dune_, hoping that the movie in my mind would be realized, and discovering through the film flaws in the book that my adolescent mind had not noticed when I fell in love with it. Something like that is true of _The Magus_ as well. It *is* fairly faithful to the book, and many of the more embarrassing scenes of dialogue are taken directly from it. So my first reaction to seeing this film is a troubled sense that I was wrong to love this book.
What's missing? Three things: time, the narrator, and a realist texture. For a sense of what I mean by the third, see Minghella's _Talented Mr. Ripley_ to see how this film should look, should feel (indeed, how, if it were remade today, it could even be cast--all that's missing is Ben Kingsley as Conchis). But what makes the book work is that the fascinating and bizarre events are made plausible by their embedding in a realistic frame: Nicholas' life away from Conchis' universe is utterly real by being largely veiled autobiography. He is the typical callow young man as would-be writer, struggling fitfully to overcome his narcissism and join the human race, while desperately clinging to that same narcissism in the knowledge that only this will allow him to become the artist he would betray himself by not becoming. The Conchis Masque is but the externalization of Nicholas' "therapy" as he sorts through this paradox, grows up and becomes a Real Writer. For every Real Writer is perilously close to a merely Failed Human Being.
In the book, Nicholas experiences Bourani (the site of Conchis' manipulations) the way people experience affairs: as what seems for a time an endlessly fascinating distraction from the intolerable experience of being who they are. On this level, the book is essentially the story of an affair, and Nicholas' guilt is an essential part of him finding his way to resolution. But the film so compresses the events that we get only Conchis, only the affair, and almost none of the narcissism, tedium, failure and self-doubt of Nicholas, or the process by which he comes to terms with them through his guilt over how his self-importance and thirst for experience harm the women in his life. And yet it is this which makes the book seem real (especially to the many young Nicholases who read it) and thus confers reality on the otherwise incredible, and incredibly silly things that transpire on the island.
I remain convinced that this film could've been done, but there must be much much more of the ordinariness of Nicholas, so that the fantastic stands out that much more. _French Lieutenant's Woman_ gives us some inkling of how a very free but literate adaptation can be penned, and _Talented Mr. Ripley_ gives us some notion of how it could be shot. But it must be *much* longer, and that length should be devoted to showing what the novel shows: how we grow through love."
Pre-David Lynch weirdness - I love it.
Stephen J. Triesch | Shoreline WA | 04/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Michael Caine plays Nicholas Urfe, a shallow, vain English teacher who leaves England to assume a teaching post on the Greek island of Phraxos. Here he encounters the mysterious Maurice Conchis (Anthony Quinn), who initiates him into a series of bizarre experiences which test his capacity for truth, love, and integrity.
Also in the mix are Ann (Anna Karina), an air hostess (this was the 60s, before we ever heard of "flight attendants") whom Urfe has used for his own sexual gratification and callously cast aside, and Lily/Julie (Candice Bergen), a mysterious companion of Conchis who is alternately presented as a mental patient and an actress. Which is the reality?
And who, or what, is Conchis - psychic, magician, psychiatrist, film producer, madman, charlatan, war criminal, God? We are kept guessing.
Conchis relates life-changing events in his own past to a skeptical Urfe, who then finds these events inexplicably recreated in his own life. What is real, what is dream, what is hoax?
The answer, says Conchis, is in the smile, the mystery of life. The movie is bracketed between a quote from T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets": "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time." I am not convinced that the shallow Mr. Urfe actually learns this lesson, but it is quite entertaining to see Conchis trying to teach it.
Yes, it is a movie for thinkers and philosophers, but much more accessible than the mysteries of David Lynch. And - I must disagree with some reviewers - although this is in many ways a movie about ideas, in no way are the characters stick figures for those ideas. Anthony Quinn has way too much charisma for that."
Mostly for fans of the novel
Lleu Christopher | Hudson Valley, NY | 08/29/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Although this film came out in 1968, it has only recently become available on DVD. Until then, you had to wait for the rare occasions it was shown on TV to see it. I would mainly recommend this film to people who have read the novel and are very fond of it. The Magus is one of my favorite books and the fact that the author, John Fowles, wrote the screenplay for the film, not to mention the interviews that are included in the DVD with people who knew him, make the movie well worth seeing. I have to admit that the film, taken by itself, is not great and might not even make much sense to anyone who hasn't read the book (or has read it but wasn't crazy about it). Still, I'm not sure why some critics seemed quite so harsh towards it. To me, it falls into the vast category of movies that are neither terrible or great. I was mainly disappointed with it relative to the merits of the novel.
Out of all the performances in The Magus, the only one I really liked was Anthony Quinn, who perfectly captured the enigmatic Conchis. Michael Caine and Candace Bergen are both good actors (and seem improbably young in this 1968 film!), but neither really stood out in this film. Caine as Nicholas, the young man who gets ensnared in Conchis' deceitful web on a remote Greek island, never seems to be experiencing any real confusion or torment. While the novel evokes a profound sense of existentialist dread, the film seems more like a bizarre theme park.
The premise of The Magus is a fascinating one. On the surface, it's about a rather aimless and self-centered young man, Nicholas, who is teaching on a Greek island and meets a mysterious older man, Maurice Conchis. As Conchis relates events of his life, people and scenes appear to Nicholas, making the island a kind of stage setting. Nicholas falls in love with a young woman who may or may not be a co-conspirator in Conchis' plot (in the novel, there are twins, which makes the whole situation even more complex). It soon becomes apparent that nothing Conchis says can be taken at face value. He may be a doctor, a film producer or simply a sadistic madman who likes to torment victims. Nicholas becomes completely trapped in a world where nothing is what it seems and reality is unknowable. I think the latter sums up what The Magus is really about --the basic mystery and ambiguity of identity, experience and life.
The basic theme of The Magus can be seen in much later films such as The Matrix and Dark City, though these rely much more on special effects to get their messages across. Probably the film that best captures this theme (actually a much better film than either The Magus or The Matrix) is The Stunt Man, which uses a movie set as a brilliant metaphor for the ambiguity of life. So, once again, the film will mainly be of interest for those who can't get enough of the book."