A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne


The illusion that is Magic Magic

There’s a moment towards the end of Sebástian Silva’s otherwise confounding Magic Magic (2013) that I am convinced explains the whole movie. Sara (Emily Browning) is playing ‘Guess Who?’ with Brink (Michael Cera), an American who has probably been in Chile a bit too long. Instead of asking the standard questions, each player asks progressively more bizarre questions of the other.

Review by Anders Furze
Magic Magic review

Magic Magic review

Sara: “Does your guy look like she’s had plastic surgery?”

Brink: “Is your guy pretending to be happy?”

And so on.

Both players somewhat desperately attempt to enliven a game that’s been played thousands of times before by asking questions that are a bit too clever for their own good, the answers to which are so subjective as to render the whole thing pointless.


The same nihilistic creativity runs deep through Magic Magic.

After a series of ominously scored shots of beautiful Chilean locations, Magic Magic settles on Alicia (Juno Temple), not-so-fresh off the plane from the USA on her first overseas trip. She is greeted by her cousin Sara and Sara’s slightly off-kilter friends.

The first half of Magic Magic precisely captures the unsettling awkwardness Alicia feels after being tossed into a group of people well after the rules governing how they interact with each other were written. Alicia pretends to read Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom’ and bops her head along to music in an effort to convince herself she’s finally living — she’s a naïf who yearns to be worldly. Her travelling companions work this out pretty quickly.

In the second half of the film, Alicia rapidly descends into another plane of (in)sanity, and the power balance within the group begins to shift. Her increasingly erratic behaviour culminates in some running around the woods and an episode that forces all the characters to confront the fact that, try as they might, it’s impossible to escape reality.


Threaded throughout are some truly baffling directorial games Silva plays, seemingly more for his enjoyment than ours. These games range from the barely perceptible (the movie’s opening credits flash onscreen for exactly two frames) to the unexplainable (a scene where Brink dances in slow motion to The Knife’s ‘Pass This On’ is a direct, but seemingly pointless, reference to that song’s music video).

The result of all this is a fairly standard story of an American trying to find herself but losing herself instead, embedded within a movie that is littered with directorial choices that are wilfully difficult to decode. Much like that game of ‘Guess Who?’, the enjoyment and frustration of Magic Magic comes from watching it formulate clever but incoherent questions to enliven a story that has been told countless times before.

► 3 1/2 stars

► Magic Magic screens tomorrow (August 14) at MIFF2015, as part of a Sebástian Silva retrospective.

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THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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