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The Magician (The Criterion Collection)

4.2 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

THE MAGICIAN (Ansiktet), directed by Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, Fanny and Alexander), is an engaging, brilliantly conceived tale of deceit from one of cinema’s premier illusionists. Max von Sydow (The Virgin Spring, The Exorcist) stars as Dr. Vogler, a mid-nineteenth-century traveling mesmerist and peddler of potions whose magic is put to the test by a small town’s cruel, eminently rational minister of health, Dr. Vergerus (Wild Strawberries’ Gunnar Bjornstrand). The result is a diabolically clever battle of wits that’s both frightening and funny, shot in rich, gorgeously gothic black and white.

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Ingmar Bergman spent a glorious film career exploring themes of death and redemption (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries), and his lesser-known gem The Magician fits perfectly into this genre. The Magician, shot eerily in crisp black and white, is one of Bergman's most unsettling films, and one that stays with the viewer long afterward. Several of Bergman's regular actors are featured, and all, as usual, are splendid: Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot (who would go on to play Death memorably in The Seventh Seal), and Ulla Sjöblom. The plot is involving and a bit creepy on its own. The Magician follows von Sydow as Dr. Vogler, who leads a traveling group called Vogler's Magnetic Health Theater, which goes from town to town selling magic potions and performing feats that defy logic. Yet the members of the troupe are as reviled and persecuted by local authorities as they are embraced and fixated upon by their audiences. Bergman's direction keeps the tension between belief and fantasy, death and eroticism, as taut as a murder mystery--and perhaps with good reason. The viewer is kept guessing about the reality of the feats of the troupe and the motives of Dr. Vogler; the actors speak in unsettling and oblique riddles. Ekerot's character, Johan, muses to no one in particular, "I've prayed one prayer in my life: 'Use me, O God!' But He never understood what a devoted slave I'd have been. So I was never used… But that too is a lie. Step by step you go into the dark. The movement itself is the only truth."

While The Magician is gripping on its own merits, the Criterion Collection includes several extras that shed additional light on the film. Peter Cowie, a Bergman expert, narrates an excellent mini-documentary about The Magician, saying he believes Bergman made the film in response to his many critics, especially from his days as a theater director in the '50s in Sweden. Cowie's feature is an essential accompaniment to viewing The Magician in its context. Other rich extras include a mini-biography of Bergman, an interview with Bergman from 1967, and a booklet with an essay by film scholar Geoff Andrew. The Magician is an absolutely essential film for any Bergman fan. --A.T. Hurley


Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • New visual essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie
  • Brief 1967 video interview with director Ingmar Bergman about the film
  • Rare English-language audio interview with Bergman
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoff Andrew

  • Product Details

    • Actors: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand
    • Directors: Ingmar Bergman
    • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled
    • Language: Swedish
    • Subtitles: English
    • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
    • Number of discs: 1
    • Rated:
      NR
      Not Rated
    • Studio: Criterion Collection
    • DVD Release Date: October 12, 2010
    • Run Time: 101 minutes
    • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
    • ASIN: B003WKL6YE
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,849 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
    • Learn more about "The Magician (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

    Customer Reviews

    Top Customer Reviews

    Format: Blu-ray
    An underrated film by the master Ingmar Bergman. Part horror, part comedy, part erotic, part
    symbolic...it is a movie that should generate a lot of thinking when it is over.

    Ostensibly it is a movie about the continuing conflict between faith and science...or reason and art but there are no quick answers. The character of Dr. Vogler may have been influenced by the myth and fact of Rasputin. Even the look is similar; Max Von Sydow is the "perfect choice of actor" in portraying this hypnotist, con-artist, or real magician.

    I never had the sense that the "magic" was real, but persons behave as if the illusions were true. After a cynical medical officer humiliates Dr. Vogler, attempts to prove Vogler is nothing but a charlatan, the magician challenges him for a private performance. And in that performance Dr. Vogler dies and comes back to life again...the metaphor of Christ.

    The nature of God requires us to keep on questioning. This was a theme in "The Seventh Seal' and it reappears in this film. Recommended...not as a masterpiece but as an important work of the director.
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    Format: VHS Tape
    Ingmar Bergman's best films give the viewer the feeling of participating in a rite. Its rhythms are less those of conventional narrative, than of theatre or a religious procession, say. As with rites, the appeal is not to the viewer's intellect; their effect is both sensual and spiritual, troubling precisely because we can't put our finger on that appeal.
    Of course, this requires a kind of faith, and is open to charges of manipulation, precisely the theme of 'The Magician', a splendid slice of unnerving Grand Guignol horror, where a rather academic argument between the Enlightenment values of sceince, reason and empiricism confront those of superstition, magic and the inexplicable. These latter values might be called medieval, pre-Renaissance, and we are reminded that the modern theatre developed in this period from the Church, from rites and passion plays. this is the kind of effect 'The Magician' has, visually and tonally.
    The argument is not between the doctor and the mesmerist, but between the film's surface narrative (which, as an argument, promotes the predominance of reason) and the film's form (which destroys every attempt at argument). Everything within the film that seems to derive from supernatural forces can all be ascribed, more or less, to rational causes, for example psychological weakness; even if it is this very weakness, that border between what we know and what we can't know, in which the mesmerist exists. Although we might say 'Ah, it's only a delusion', the very fact that these self-generated delusions can convincingly take the place of safe, everyday reality, can become that reality, suggests the limits of rationality, without any recourse to the supernatural.
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    Format: VHS Tape
    The correct title of this film is The Face. Since it partly deals with the way that artistic truth has to be packaged and promoted by hucksters it is not surprising that whoever distributed it in the US monkeyed around with Bergman's original title. More surprising is that an exceptionally stimulating, well-directed, well-written and finely acted work like this has only collected 3 Amazon reviews in the last 5 years. The actor's trade is here presented as closely akin to religion. Does the miraculous actually happen? Has it ever happened, even if only just once? Pleasure in art requires a suspension of disbelief: anyone, therefore, who has enjoyed a story, a picture, a film, has replaced reason with faith --- if only for an hour or so. There are certainly some people, entire sects of the puritanically minded (including groups of scientists, rationalists, and so on) who hate art, presumably seeing it as inherently fraudulent. At the same time, as Holly Hunter has remarked, actors are only beggars and gypsies; beyond the bounds of respectable society. When this theatrical tale ends the god appears from the machine, nevertheless, and the suggestion is that miracles do occasionally happen. Anyone at all interested in this subject owes it to him/herself to see this subtle film, by an acknowledged master of the medium, and one of the greatest of the C20th.
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    Format: DVD Verified Purchase
    Occasionally, I've wondered what film-maker Ingmar Bergman
    and I might talk about, were we to have dinner together.
    It wouldn't be about film theory, or the silence of God;
    it might, perhaps, be about our waiter being slow on the uptake
    regarding our need for black, black coffee, or about those northern
    icebound forests haunted by...what?

    I know I would be tongue-tied; for, of all the films Mr. Bergman
    has directed, only four come to mind which made a definite impact
    on me: WILD STRAWBERRIES (about age and memory); THE VIRGIN SPRING
    (about the persistence of faith); THE SEVENTH SEAL (about life and
    death); and THE MAGICIAN.

    I've never forgotten THE MAGICIAN. In its own way, it is an
    exploration of mysticism battling crushing cynicism. Max Von
    Sydow plays voiceless down-at-the-heels hypnotist-charlatan who
    brings his starving troupe to a nobleman's mansion. There he is forced
    to put on a show which discomfits some and angers many. Bergman
    patiently explores illusion, and whether this defeated
    charlatan may indeed have a "power."

    At the climax, Bergman sets up a genuinely spooky attic
    sequence in which von Sydow's main tormentor comes face to face
    with his own fears, and the horror of the prisoning darkness around him.
    It is disturbing, unsettling.

    So how does THE MAGICIAN end? Obliquely, in typical Bergman fashion,
    providing no answers.
    Like Bergman, it is a gothic entity each one of us - seduced by a master -
    must approach with trepidation.

    Criterion's print is gorgeous, a mosaic of lush darkness and light.
    That attic brims with silence and unseen movement; one is so absorbed with
    what is going to happen, life beyond the screen almost ceases.
    Watch it alone - but don't turn the light off!
    2 Comments 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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