Derren makes a miracle man out of a scuba diver

By: Tom Eagles
Published: Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Posted in: Review >> TVOD

The real treat this Easter did not come in the form of an overpriced egg but in the arrival of a new Derren Brown special.

Miracles For Sale was the culmination of six months secret work in order to turn a member of the public into a healing Pastor figure; to preach to the masses and perform miracles of healing using the significant power of the almighty.

The chosen one was Nathan, a scuba diving instructor selected by Brown to carry the anti-message to those who believed in the power of healing by faith. Nathan, a believer in God, agreed to transform himself into Pastor James Collins to expose the frauds who leech off the hopes, despair, and finances of the desperate.

Over the six months, Nathan – or Pastor James – was taught everything from bible script to Swahili (from his bogus backstory of living in Uganda) and the trickery behind the ‘miracles’ performed on the blind, the deaf, the sick and the mourning.

Nathan – not instantly likable owing to his impatience and susceptibility to stress – was taken to Texas to perform a show of healing and miracles; and ultimately to deliver a message to those who are too easily fooled.

Something we’ve not often seen from a Derren Brown special came when he and his team landed in turmoil when selecting a target to expose as a fraud. The moral conflict the team faced was humbling and humanising; ostensibly deciding which faith healer was worthy of being disgraced, facing losing their income, reputation, and the rammifications for families all in the name of truth; straddling the conflict between the exploitation of the many (believers), and of the few (healers).

However as one truth-seeker declared “we must be hypocrites sometimes to expose the true reality” and the problem righted itself.

Brown and co set about deconstructing the tricks, the trade, and the tonics that faith healers use to demonstrate – often in front of a live audience – their direct line to the almighty: the way adrenaline is used, that contact cards feed information to the preacher ahead of a show and that slight-of-hand is used to manipulate.

It was interesting seeing these tricks enacted by an agent aiming to expose it as nonsense.

This was not a show to deconstruct peoples’ beliefs in a higher power – an issue which was dealt with sensitively as at no point was religion dismissed or mocked – rather this was a warning to show how the higher realm is manipulated by those who do accumulate vast sums of wealth. As Brown explains during the show, there is a formula to the financial prophesy of faith healing which forges an impenetrable force field around the pastor or preacher:

People sign away money which is promised back to them ten-fold. Thereupon, the sick are told to throw away their medicines because a miracle has taken place. If the illness should ‘return’ then the subject has failed – for it was they who let doubt creep into their psyche; did not believe enough and ultimately do not deserve reward from god.

The truth of most healings is exaggeration from minor lifts that come with adrenaline rushes, medically these act as a huge painkiller. While Derren didn’t do a huge destruction act on faith healing as an industry, he is getting the message across, and exposing one set of frauds at a time.

Brown is fast offering himself forward as the truth seeker in an entertainment sphere which is a tricky balance to get right. He circumnavigates the problem of his own reputation and celebrity – which precedes him – by employing members of the public to carry his agenda. In doing this he makes it slightly less about Derren Brown and more about the topic he seeks to disseminate which is encompassing, important and also entertaining work. Good job.