Saturday, April 11, 2020
Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #6 The Magus  ★★
While working as an English teacher on the remote Greek island of Phraxos, Nicholas Urfe falls under the dangerous influence of wealthy businessman Maurice Conchis, a former Nazi collaborator and self-described psychic. Nicholas experiences a number of strange visions involving pagan gods and the spirits of people supposedly deceased for several decades. But these are revealed to be actors cast in a wacko “godgame” orchestrated by Conchis as part of an experiment involving a cadre of internationally renowned psychologists who wish to determine the capacity for human forgiveness in an unwilling subject. Sprinkle in some mumbo jumbo about Greek myths and a number of untranslated Marquis de Sade quotes and you have an “unfilmable” literary classic.
But film it they did in 1968 as a lush mystery drama filmed on location in Greece with an all-star cast including Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, and Anna Karina. The film was and remains a disaster; too esoterically odd by half and featuring a disinterested, miscast Caine in the Nicholas role, it was a box office bomb and financial failure. But, to its credit, it’s a remarkably faithful adaption of the book—too faithful, perhaps. The few inspired deviations from the text—the use of nonlinear flashbacks to provide Nicholas’s backstory, the removal of a racist “black Alabama n****r” character—appear to be Green’s own. But by otherwise clinging to the original book it suffers from the same pitfalls, mainly the preposterous plot twists and suffocating sense of self-seriousness. Apparently, the issue with some books is that they are filmmable.