Let me start by saying this isn’t entirely a movie review. It’s more about my desire to see this less than perfect movie made into an awesome TV show, preferably going no longer than 3-4 seasons with a plot laid out ahead of time with each episode written by the same person or writing team, or at the very least written by people who have seen all the other episodes. Is that too much to ask? For an American TV show, it might be.
Why am I obsessed with this movie? I just really like the concept. I am partial to movies and TV shows about psychics, but only in fiction. When people actually claim to be psychic, I find it anywhere from presumptuous to laughable to despicable, as elaborated on in my previous post. In my heart I desperately want such powers to exist. It’s all the fun of technological advancement without the slow progress and setbacks. It’s just that psychic powers have all been debunked so thoroughly, so many times, for so many years, that I think any remotely skeptical people will agree the burden of proof is entirely on the so called psychic’s side to prove themselves real in a sea of fakes. Even so, skeptics like James Randi continue debunking the same tired old tricks and I’m glad they do, because people still fall for them. I enjoy watching this process, particularly when the psychic is actively trying to deceive the public, like Yuri Gheller or James Hydric from Randi’s career of exposing fraud.
I think what it is about this movie that strikes a chord with me is the combination of two things. This is where it gets spoilery, so be warned that what I’m about to discuss isn’t revealed until the end of the film. Red lights features a professor named Margaret Matheson played by Sigorni Weaver and her assistant Tom Buckley played by Cillian Murphy. They teach a class and go around investigating supernatural claims. Here are a couple of skeptical debunkers, except one of them is actually telekinetic. Buckley is going around proving psychic after psychic fake because he actually hopes to one day find someone like him. So we get the skeptical investigation and the real psychic all rolled into one. It is a most satisfying concept to me. There is also an interesting conflict within the main character. He really does seem to want to disprove and expose all the frauds maybe even more than he want’s to find another real psychic, because his mother may have died after taking a faith healers bad advice. In the movie, it’s not clear if the story he tells about this is true or not. There is also another element of tension between him and his partner. Her son has been in a coma for most of his life and she says that if she just witnessed one credible supernatural phenomena, she would pull the plug and let him go. That would give her the faith to at least hope there was something waiting for him after death.
All this great setup but I don’t respond as well to the second half of the movie. Sigorni Weaver dies and he never works up the courage to tell her the truth. It was tragic and a good chance for Cillian to show off some acting chops, but things start to spiral out of control after that. The big reveal at the end is kind of confusing at first too, not sure if that was intentional or not. The theater starts to shake and it’s not clear from Buckley and Silver’s reactions, who is doing it at first. Once you get it, they give you flashbacks to make sure you really got it. Cillian is psychic, look at all the times when you thought he was being tormented by Simon Silver. It was really him doing it to himself subconsciously all along.
So…please make a TV show based on this film and PLEASE don’t let any of the writers from LOST go near it. I’ll even lay it out for anyone interested.
We have two paranormal claims investigators, one a professor Margret Matheson, one an assistant Tom Buckley. Basically exactly like the movie, with the Matheson’s son in a coma and the back story of Tom Buckley’s mom dying partly due to a fake psychic. She is Buckley’s surrogate mother and he is her surrogate son. The first difference would be that you know from the pilot episode that Buckley is a closeted psychic. In this case, I think it’s way more fun to be in on the secret, to watch the characters inner struggle. One other addition is the fact that Buckley is slowly discovering more abilities within himself. I think one of the reasons why origin stories are so compelling is because of the excitement of new growth, the feeling of unfolding possibilities. I’m happiest watching a character discover new powers or train to unlock them. In this case the powers would just reveal themselves because Buckley doesn’t even necessarily want these abilities. It would always be a game of keeping it secret from Margret, even when he surprises himself with a new ability. There should probably even be a time when they are investigating someone and he accidentally makes it look like the fake psychic is legit with the awakening of a new power he can’t yet control. Also there would have to be the obligatory time when he saves Margret from being hurt/killed in some way that he can’t fully explain. Each episode would be them investigating a new psychic claim and proving it false.
The characters are introduced, they go on their investigations, disproving claims. After the first couple episodes each character has an entire episode devoted to their back story. Each one being like it’s own hour long movie. Then back to the regular format. Our secret psychic meets a love interest without his partner present. She claims to be a psychic and even though he is skeptical at first, he lets his emotions cloud his judgement briefly starts to believe her. He starts to think about telling her the truth about himself, but first he introduces her to Margret, she sees right through the trick. Simon Silver, the nemesis from the film, pops up every so often in between their normal debunkings, outsmarting them and making the viewer wonder if he is for real. He would be the final confrontation of the first season. They finally prove him to be a fraud, but the main character partly exposes himself to Mr Silver as a real psychic. From that point on Silver can’t decided if he was outsmarted or if he really witnessed genuine psychic ability.
A young new psychic (lets call him Jacob for now) appears in the media and becomes the focus of this seasons investigations. Tom’s father dies, he regrets never telling his dad the truth. His father was the one who urged Tom’s mother to seek psychic healing that indirectly lead to her death. He always blamed his father somewhat but also regrets not letting him know that similar powers do exist in the world and it might have worked under different circumstances. Later in the season they run into the same healer who caused his mothers death. She is quite old and it turns out to be very cathartic for Tom because she is a sweet lonely old woman who really believes in her powers and only ever wanted to help people. Tom Buckley ends up becoming friends with her. He goes to see her regularly to talk. She instinctively knows he is a psychic, POSSIBLY indicating she did have a small degree of ability. That, or she just guessed the right answer. This season ends with them catching Jacob committing fraud. Only the kicker is that he is a real psychic pretending to be a fake and he is aware of Buckley’s secret after talking to Simon Silver, who is already in jail for fraud. The season ends with this reveal, of which the Tom and Margret are unaware.
Jacob is now out of jail due to evidence being mysteriously destroyed. He is stalking Tom and Margret and eventually confronts Tom with their shared abilities. Buckley doesn’t believe him until he starts flinging things with his mind and Tom instinctively stops something in mid air. Then they proceed to fight over control of the same object with Tom being over powered. They talk for a while comparing notes about their shared ability, though Tom holds back talking of his other powers. Tom feels very glad to have finally made this connection and they start secretly meeting up. It goes well with the exception that Jacob likes to push his ability further and take risks with his safety. Then one day as Tom is leaving, he hears a stray thought from Jacob. His friend is thinking, “I can finally go public for real, we’ll do it together. I’m going to make the whole world believe.” Tom has withheld that he can hear thoughts sometimes. The next day Tom Buckley has it out with Jacob about not wanting to go public. They can’t agree and after that confrontation Tom goes to Margret who is visiting her ever comatose son. He takes her back to the university lab they use to perform tests on supposed psychics. He sits down at a table and starts to levitate the testing objects one by one. All the while silent and looking at her. She first assumes he is simply showing her a new trick he figured out, but as she checks one thing after another she realizes she can’t think of an explanation. She asks him how, but he remains silent and starts to well up with tears and says “I’m sorry.” She says “This isn’t funny Tom!”. She starts to lose composure and become more emotional. Tears are streaming from her now as she says “Why would you do this?” She screams for him to stop. All the things fall down all at once and she runs off as he yells out only “I’m sorry Margret.” In the next episode she comes back to him and says “Okay, tell me everything.” He tells the whole tale and she says if he is really serious about this he must submit to some real double blind testing. They are skeptics so there would be no way she would take everything on faith, even from him. After she finally believes him and knows about the other guy with telekinesis, she asks about spirits. He assures her that he has never had any indication of an afterlife, otherwise he would have told her long. Even so, she decides it is time to let her son go.
Season 4 or TV movie
The three main characters finally all meet up and discuss going public. Margret actually encourages Tom to go public, but respects his desire to keep his abilities secret. Jacob does not. He leaves to restart his career using his actual abilities. He is about to “out” Tom on TV but decides only to say “There is another like me”. Later Jacob is taken by the government and held without charge after a public altercation in which he got angry and used his powers against an attacking member of an unruly crowd and seriously injured them. After trying legal channels, only to be lied to and told the kid is not even being held, Tom uses his abilities to sense where Jacob has been taken and rescue him. Margret tries to help, but gets shot in the process. She dies, but the series ends with Tom hearing her voice in his head telling him everything is going to be okay. END
I would like it to be something less cheesy than rescuing someone from a secret government facility, but it’s just not coming to me. I guess it could be done well as long as the action element was very subdued and Tom’s powers don’t get out of hand.
Key Tenants of the show
Always seek to maximize and understand the personal impact of psychic powers on peoples lives, real or fraudulent. The skeptical investigation portion of the show is important, but it is secondary to the emotional impact. Let the competency porn take a back seat to the character development.
Make the science as good as possible. Possibly consult with someone from the JREF on skeptical investigation.
Always be raising the stakes, but do it very slowly. Tom Buckley should always be perfecting or improving a power or developing a new one, but they should start very small and never get too out of hand. Tom Buckley is not THE CHOSEN ONE. He will not be SAVING THE WORLD. He is just man trying to live his life.
Other than what I’ve already suggested, I can’t really say why this idea meant enough to me to warrant writing all this crap. I’m also sort of torn about the concept, because the intellectual part of me would rather see a show about skeptics in which ALL the psychics are actually fake. You know, like real life 😉 That show would probably be on AMC, where as the show I just outlined seems more like Showtime or HBO.
I don’t think I would really want to make this show. I just want to watch it. So someone had better get cracking. I need a better psychic show to watch than “The Listener”.