Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Prestige

Have you ever seen the movie The Prestige? (If you have, please bear with me as I summarize it.) It is about two magicians in London a hundred years ago, and how they destroy one another in their pursuit of vengeance.  The first magician, who calls himself “Danton,” is a talented showman but he struggles with the total dedication to his art that is necessary in order to be truly successful. His rival is a man named Borden, who is a rotten performer but is totally focused on his art and willing to take life-or-death chances. The movie begins with Borden standing trial for Danton’s murder; apparently, he
sabotaged one of Danton’s tricks which led to Danton’s death.
Flashback...When they first meet, Borden and Danton are “plants” in the audience working for another magician. In the course of things, Borden makes a decision that leads to the death of Danton’s wife. Danton then gets revenge on Borden by sabotaging a trick and causing Borden to lose 2 fingers. So Borden sabotages one of Danton’s tricks and ruins his career. And so it goes back and forth for several years as each tries to prove -- by destroying and discrediting his rival -- that he is the better magician and the better man.
Then Borden begins performing a trick called “The Transported Man.” He steps into a cabinet on one side of the stage and instantly reappears in a cabinet on the other side of the stage. Try as he might, Danton can’t figure out how Borden does it. It becomes an obsession for Danton to figure it out so he can do it better. He comes up with a version of the trick using a double, but eventually the double betrays him (of course Borden is behind that!), and Danton begins spending all of his resources to learn Borden’s secret.
After stealing Borden’s diary, Danton becomes convinced that the scientist Nicola Tesla built a machine for Borden that transports him (like the Star Trek transporter). He hires Tesla to build him a similar machine. Tesla does so, and Danton’s version of “The Transported Man” becomes the talk of the town . . . until the night that Danton is murdered during the performance. Borden is caught at the scene of the crime, is tried and convicted, and finally is sentenced to hang.
I can’t tell you the rest in case you ever decide to watch the movie . . . the end is totally amazing and has more plot twists than anything else I’ve seen. But the point of the movie is that obsession has a way of destroying lives, especially when the obsession is tied to a lack of forgiveness and a need to take revenge. Borden’s willingness to give every fiber of his being to his art causes him to make decisions that are truly unbelievable for most people. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s declaration in Philippians 3:13 (“forgetting what is behind, I press forward”).
So this is where you ask, “So are you saying that obsession -- even obsession with Christ -- is a destructive thing?” I probably am saying that. The question is, what is being destroyed by the obsession?
If my obsession is Christ-focused, it will destroy my life: my selfishness, my greed, my lust, my anger, my need to have my own way at all costs. I have to admit, I am not obsessed with Christ the way Borden was obsessed with his art, or Danton was obsessed with his revenge. I am not obsessed with Christ the way Paul was, being willing to give up EVERYTHING in pursuit of Jesus. There was a period in my life where I was starting to come close to that level of obsession -- or “commitment” to use a more positive term -- but I have grown weary and drifted away from my original path. I have taken my eyes off the goal and allowed myself to become discouraged. I have looked at the cost and forgotten the value of the thing being purchased.
Salvation is, of course, a free gift and requires no effort on my part. Sanctification, however, demands a workout. Anyone can grow bigger, but only the dedicated can grow “buff.”  I have allowed myself to become fat as a Christian rather than fit. I am a spiritual John Candy rather than Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Not good. I need a little holy obsession.

In the movie, the engineer who designs the illusions explains that every magic trick has three “acts”: the first is the pledge, where the magician presents the audience with an ordinary item, like a box or a hat or a woman. Then in the second act, he does something “magical” to that item: pulls a rabbit out of it or makes it disappear or saws it in half, etc. If he stopped there, it wouldn’t be much of a trick, though. The trick becomes great with the third act, which is called the prestige. In the prestige, the original object is restored somehow: the item that disappeared or was destroyed is brought back as good as new (or even better).
Although faith is not a magician’s illusion, I think there may be a parallel to the prestige here. We have each been given a life, a common ordinary life. Then we are invited to join with Jesus in his death (Romans 6:3-4). The “prestige” comes in the resurrection; not just the one we can all look forward to sometime after our physical deaths, but the resurrection that is promised again and again in the New Testament, the idea that we are “a new creation in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  We die to the old self, and are reborn even better than new.
I want to rediscover that obsession that presses on toward the goal of becoming like Christ, forgetting what is behind me and straining with every fiber of my being toward what lies ahead.  For me, the hardest part isn’t the “forgetting what lies behind,” although there are days when that is difficult.  For me, the hardest part is the distractions that surround me and keep me from giving it my all.  I don’t want the kind of obsession Danton had, because his obsession was based on unforgiveness for past wrongs (he was ALWAYS looking behind him).  I do want the kind of obsession Borden had, because his was based on ignoring everything except his ultimate goal, and doing whatever it took (no matter how radical) in order to achieve that goal.
Or maybe my problem is not so much about what to ignore -- the past or the present.  Maybe my problem is figuring out what the goal is -- the future.  “Without vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).  What is my vision?
How about you?  Do you need to learn to forget the past?  Ignore the present?  Or discover the future?  (Something to ponder . . .)

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