Monday, March 05, 2007

A weekend of smoke and mirrors

I watched two things this weekend that appear to have nothing in common yet are strangely similar.

Lisa purchased The Prestige. This was a movie she really wanted to see at the theater. It didn't really make a splash from what I remember of it. But it looked interesting to me. It was interesting to Lisa only because Hugh Jackman was one of the lead actors. She has an unhealthy fascination for Hugh Jackman.

The story is about two rival magicians. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play the rival magicians. They begin working together when they are mentoring with an older magician. But the movie portrays them mentoring with the man (played by Michael Caine) who crafts the illusions used by the magician. As they become more ambitious their rivalry turns violent toward each other. The entire movie is about illusion and misdirection. Not just the art of prestidigitation. The movie is filmed to enhance the illusion of the plot.

It all comes down to the prestige. This is the final part of the three components of a magic act. It is where the artist gives the audience something to wow about. It is the element that keeps us mystified. Maybe making something reappear. Perhaps proclaiming the hidden truth the magician knows (revealing the value of a hidden card for example). But everything works us up to that moment where we want to clap and say, "Wow!"

This movie is not for anyone who doesn't like a straight forward, easy plot. It is a brain bender of a movie. It is filmed to be complex. It is written to keep you confused.

Thus bringing me to the second thing I watched this weekend. Sunday evening was the premiere of The Lost Tomb of Jesus. I bet you are wondering how these two are related? They are related because this, too, was a movie about illusion and misdirection. I watched the two hour presentation and the hour long discussion afterward. The film maker (not the much hyped James Cameron, by the way) Simcha Jacobovici has crafted an hypothesis about the discovery of a tomb in Jerusalem that contained bone boxes (ossuary) attributed to "Jesus the son of Joseph" and other persons whose names line up with characters from the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus (Mary and Jose being prominent). I emphasize hypothesis for a very important reason. NONE of this movie was about fact.

Wait that was harsh. Let me back up a little. There were facts in this movie. Here are the relevant facts I discerned.
1.) In 1980 (or so) a grave was located in Jerusalem. That grave contained the remains of (it seems) 10 persons placed in limestone bone boxes. Some of the boxes were marked by what appears to be the name of the "occupant".
2.) The names of the individuals are common names in use in that region of the world at the time of Jesus. The names (in English) were Jesus the son of Joseph, two Mary's, Matthew, Jose, and Judah. These names also (with the exception of the last name) are the same as characters names in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life.
3.) There was another bone box revealed in the last few years that was marked with the name James the son of Joseph, Jesus' brother.
4.) When scrapings of human remains were tested, DNA was found and compared from two of the boxes. It showed that the individuals who were interred in those respective boxes were not related through a mother.
5.) Statistics are too complicated to mess with.

There were of course minor historical and detail facts that were included. But Mr. Jacobovici wanted to provide an engaging and interesting view of his hypothesis. An hypothesis is an idea based on basic observations. This program was about his hypothesis that this was the tomb of the family of Jesus. It also included the bones of Jesus. He went on to hypothesize that it also included the bones of Jesus' wife, Mary Magdalene, and their son, Judah.

The problem is that his idea was presented with smoke and mirrors. The images he used showed us what Jesus' family would have looked like (if it happened that way). The evidence from scientists was portrayed as substantiated fact equaling proof of the position (when all it showed as what was evident - DNA didn't match through a mother and dust deposits over time were similar in two boxes from the same region of the world). The Gospel stories were told in a way to disguise the real truth (Mary and Judah were at the foot of the cross, Mary was a teacher among the apostles).

I don't have a problem with people offering up contrary points of view. I like a healthy debate. But I have a serious problem with people using bad methods of science and sensory stimuli to manipulate hypotheses in order to make something appear true.

Let's leave the illusion to the magicians.
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