Derren Brown: TV Specials

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DERREN BROWN: MESSIAH broadcast on C4 on 7 January, 2005

  • DB introduces the programme in which he goes to America to meet five influential people behind certain belief systems upon which people are encouraged to base their lives. Approaching each under a pseudonym he uses his skills of "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection, and showmanship" to try and convince them that he has special abilities in their fields. He wants to see how easy or hard it will be to get them to endorse him. If at any point he is asked whether it is a trick he will own up, but wonders whether anyone will question him.
  • 1. Challenging psychic ability posing as Daniel Owen, a psychic whose skills developed after he was struck by lightening. Visits Sedona Creative Life Center in the town of Sedona, Arizona, which he describes as a "spiritual Mecca", to see the psychic Abby Haydon. He displays his psychic ability by describing the impressions he gets of four simple drawings being done by Abby in a different room. This type of test of psychic ability is usually referred to as remote viewing.
    1. Prediction: simple, abstract, religious thing - like a cross; tree or shrub - more organic
      Drawing: Star of David and a tree
    2. Prediction: banana
      Drawing: banana
    3. Prediction: on water, rocking motion on water
      Drawing: boat
    4. Prediction: warm face, maybe the sun
      Drawing: sun with a smiling face
    He is endorsed by the psychics who view the demonstration as a great example of psychic ability, and DB's sincerity is commented upon.
  • 2. Challenging Christianity posing as James Lawrence who converts people to Christianity, after his own religious awakening, through non-spiritual methods with a touch. Visits Restoration House in East Greenwich, Rhode Island to see the Cross-Cultural Minister Curt Nordhielm who specialises in evangelising to immigrant communities. DB addresses a group of people who responded to advert to attend a discussion on spirituality, almost all atheists and non-believers. A girl describes her scepticism as members of her family all have different faiths, after which DB touches her on the side of her head. At this point she now claims to understand a little what religious people feel. As a result of this some people, including the Minister, leave as they feel uncomfortable with the instant conversion.

    A man describes his lack of belief to DB who then has him stand facing away from him. Without touching him, DB gestures pulling the subject backwards towards him and the subject falls back into DB's arms. Having been speaking sceptically the man now thinks there maybe a possibility that his original opinions were not correct, and that there is now reason to explore the existence of God because of what happened to him.

    DB then gets the whole room to stand, and clarifies that apart from these two conversions only one person believes in God. They are all told to close their eyes and as DB talks to them he encourages them to feel the spirit as a pressure moving into them; the people then begin to fall back into their seats until only one is left standing. When asked again, all of the subjects now claim to believe in God.

    Although Curt left after the first conversion, he is still impressed, but want to meet again before offering a public endorsement.

    At the end of this display the viewers are informed that All of these people were 'de-converted' after filming, and left with exactly the same beliefs as when they arrived.
  • 3. Challenging crystal energy posing as Robert Frawley, a new age entrepreneur who has developed the 'Dream Machine' which records dreams. Visits Lorraine DeFelice a new age publisher in Las Vegas, Nevada who has been using the Dream Machine for the past five days, during which time she has been asked to remember her dreams too. DB describes the Dream Machine to the viewers as a simple circuit of which the switch just turns on a green light, but to her as a machine that can record the user's dreams using crystalline technology and play them back to him. He goes on to describe effects of the machine as users being "aware of dreaming less", something she confirms when in a deep sleep, and the fact that it "takes the colour out of the dreams", she confirms that she experienced dreaming in black and white for the first time for two nights of the experiment.

    DB describes the dreams as including movement, things moving across her field of vision, large wheels like cartwheels; an eccentrically dressed black man, or white woman, life around him, large animals like dogs around him all of which seem correct. A specific word, binoculars, is a positive, as is a large bird of some sort with piercing eyes. A description of a black sky and white buildings matches with one of her monochrome dreams.

    She sees the machine as amazing as it accessed her private secret dreams, and wants DB to come on a radio programme to publicise it - an offer he turns down.
  • 4. Challenging alien abduction posing as Richard Collins, who was abducted by aliens ten years ago leaving him with the ability to sense an individual's medical history. Visits Ann Druffel, a prolific writer on alien abductions and Vince Uhlenkott in Pasedena, California. DB faces away from subjects, and invites either of them to come and place their hands on the small of his back from which he will attempt to describe their medical history in detail. Ann is the subject, and although DB claims he cannot tell who it is initially, describes her difficulty in sleeping and something connected with her throat a long time ago. At this point he turns and faces her and tells her that she tries not to take prescription drugs, mentions minor heart problems, but that she is basically in good health. She interprets the description as exactly correct as she had a thyroidectomy in the 1960s for a benign tumour, she has trouble sleeping, uses alternative medicine almost exclusively, and is in excellent health.

    She is amazed by his astounding accuracy and feels that it needs to be written up in a scientific journal. She invites DB to speak at a meeting that evening - another offer he turns down.
  • 5. Challenging spiritualism, talking to the dead, posing as Fraser Sherwell. Visits Rev Janet Nohavec, a spiritualist medium and teacher in Manhatten, New York. For the viewer's benefit he describes cold reading as dating from the earliest mediums and being a way of talking to people as if you know everything about them, from which people make your statements fit their situation. DB is to be the medium for a group of "sceptical New Yorkers" who have responded to an advert to come along to a reading.

    All of the subjects turn out to be women and their individual readings with their responses in square brackets are as follows:
    1. Somebody who passed on on a birthday, an anniversary or something like that? [woman identified at this point]. A young chap, very close, they parted before he passed on, he was not forthcoming, held a lot of things back, but for all of that he was quite good natured and he's got quite a dimply face when he smiles [Yes], big hands [Yes]. He gives a couple of different names: Charles or Charlie? Tom or Thomas, someone with whom the woman has issues. The spirit is looking out for her. She's been feeling lonely, and has a silly pet which he finds funny. The connection is about the spirit looking out for her.
      [It turns about the spirit passed away on their anniversary, and they had been engaged. Her ex-husband's name was one of those given by the spirit. As for pets, she has two aquariums.]
    2. An old lady with black hair [woman identified at this point] tied back. Her name was Lily or Lucy, or Lucile, something like that. Something about a hat, one of the lady's that the woman liked, she had loads of hats [nodding] - the hat lady [nodding and smiling]. Asking about Charlie, Charles - someone she left behind? [her ex-husband]. Describes an image the spirit has tried to give the woman trying to let her see she's still connected. The image is her in an elevator, although she didn't die in an elevator, but it's the image she is trying to give you.
      [The lady's name was Lucy. The image is seen to be a dream where the lady dies in an elevator; the woman had worried about this dream, but now feels she knows.]
    3. A lady who is trying to connect with somebody at the front. Getting a name, "not a lady's name - Paul..., Paula, Paulette"? [woman identified at this point - the spirit is her mother]. The spirit is someone with whom she didn't connect, and this is about making the connection. The mother was no older than 60, in her 50s, something like that when she passed [nodding], feels she has a connection with the subject. A sense of her being quite an artistic, creative woman, very well kept, well presented, elegant; but there is guilt on her part. It's happy but there's a feeling of guilt: your father passed when you were very young [nodding]; there's a feeling that she left you early. She didn't connect in a way she should have connected; quite a strong feeling of things undone and unsaid here. Your father passed when you were very young, a teenager [more nodding]. In a happy way it's an apology - reaching out, wanting to connect.
    The medium feels that there is no doubt DB has a gift which needs to be moved to a new level .

    At the end of this display, the viewers are informed that the true nature of the programme was fully explained to all three participants who received a reading, and they were all very happy for us to including them in the show.
  • DB concludes the programme saddened by the fact that he has not been challenged or accused of trickery, but feels that it is "passion not knowledge that teaches us to be certain of our beliefs, and the ability to question these things that makes us truly human".
  • Sound bite over title sequence of a trap driver in Central Park, New York, dismissing God as a scam and a hoax.

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