Thinking about our Lent theme of Turn/Return has me reflecting back on one of my favorite movies, The Prestige. It is a movie about rival magicians played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, set in late 19th century London. Explained by one of the characters, the movie takes its title from a convention in magic that holds that any magic trick consists of three acts: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige.
In the pledge, the magician shows you something ordinary. At the turn, the magician makes this ordinary thing do something extraordinary like disappear. The third act, the prestige, is the hardest because it is the real payoff. It is not enough to make something disappear; you have to be able to bring it back.
Part of the reason I love the movie so much is because of the surprise ending, so I will try my best not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it. But as I think about this idea of turn/return in relation to this movie, I find myself thinking about how we sometimes approach Lent like it is only about the turn, about making sudden and drastic changes to our lives by cutting things out or making bad habits disappear.
It’s not enough to make things in our lives disappear if we aren’t able to also bring ourselves back to who we are as whole people. There are certainly things in our lives worth turning away from, cutting out, or making disappear, but if we are only being diminished by this work, then we have ultimately failed.
As much as we may need our times of confession, we also need our assurances of grace.
By the end of the movie, even though they are able to put on a good show, the various prestiges or returns of the magicians’ tricks are shown to be grounded in illusion. In different ways, the characters bear the burden of being unable to fully realize the prestiges for which they strive so hard, slowly being diminished with each turn they perform.
With every turn we make this Lent, may we also find the magic of the return, the grace of God calling forth new life in the most astounding ways.