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Derren Brown Plays Russian Roulette Live (2003)

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September 2003 (UK)  »

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Derren Brown Plays Russian Roulette: Reloaded  »

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A truly terrifying illusion
20 January 2004 | by (Manchester, England, UK) – See all my reviews

While only the most credulous believe in the psychic phenomena, Derren Brown does not profess to possess supernatural powers. Rather, he claims the ability to identify those individuals most susceptible to manipulation, based on their subconscious behaviours, whose conduct he may then influence for the purpose of his illusions. This whole concept of mind control, irrespective of its actual validity, can therefore be presented far more plausibly and adds a curious bent on traditional magic.

In this one-off show broadcast live, a member of the public - whittled down by Brown from 100 initial applicants - placed a bullet in one of six barrels of a revolver. The assistant was then asked to slowly count from 1 to 6 on the pretext that this would enable Brown to correctly determine the chamber in which the ammunition lay. Commencing at a barrel thought to be safe, the illusionist pointed the gun to his head temple and pulled the trigger, with this process continuing until such time as he reached the chamber believed to contain the slug, whereupon the revolver was directed at a sandbag and the bullet discharged.

In a preamble of publicity which preceded the show's broadcast, viewers were informed that the stunt was to be performed from an overseas location - later confirmed as Jersey - ostensibly to circumvent strict gun control laws on mainland Britain. The breaking news that US TV's Mr Magic, Roy Horn, had been critically injured in a tiger mauling, served to strengthen any perception that the stunt may imperil its star's well-being. Child welfare groups also sought to prevent the show's airing, based in their belief that the illusion would "trigger" - every pun intended - fatalities among impressionable teens seeking to emulate the master illusionist. In the event, the stunt passed of innocuously.

We all feel the need to endure on-the-edge experiences, albeit vicariously. Brown's genius is therefore in his ability to take his audience on a rollercoaster of emotions where we undergo the full gamut of feelings from excitement to terror to relief, with the tension, at times, almost unbearable. In contrast, US street conjuror, David Blaine, fails to inspire since we do not see him suffer.

Following the programme's transmission, a spokesman for Jersey Police revealed that Brown had enlisted the services of a pyrotechnics firm to achieve the illusion's effects and, at no time, was anyone endangered. While a minority may feel cheated, most will marvel at Brown's presentation and influencing skills and ponder the secrets to the stunt.

Russian Roulette must surely rank as one of the great TV moments in this entertainment genre. Brown should be applauded for reviving interest in his craft.


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