R. Paul Wilson is a name that is probably not that well known in America outside of a few fans of British magicians/illusionists, but in the UK, he has been the presenter of a show called The Real Hustle for nine series now. According to Wikipedia, “he has studied sleight of hand, cheating and conjuring since the age of eight. After twelve years as an IT consultant, he became a professional performer and lecturer, studying film before moving into the industry”. Wilson has a number of film and television credits, from developing a number of tricks and illusions for various shows, to working as a second unit director and actor in quite a few films. Obviously, Mr. Wilson knows his magic and illusions and how to film them.
None of which matters when it comes to the Wilson written, directed, and produced short The Magic Box. Though I have no doubt that the illusion at the heart of Wilson’s film “works”, it wouldn’t honestly matter whether it did or not, because in the end Wilson’s film does exactly what characterizes the best illusions and makes them truly successful. Just as the illusionist’s goal is to distract the audience at just the right time in order to pull off the illusion in a way that makes the viewer wonder “how did he do that”, by using the title to focus the viewer on the box, and pretending to be about the growing child’s attempts to figure out the secret of the box, the short distracts us from what is truly the heart of the film – the multi-generational connection that is established by the little round piece of wood at its center.
In a lot of ways, The Magic Box is a perfect example of what a short film can do. Without a large budget, without any kind of excess, without even any words, Wilson gives us a simple story of love through the ages, a love that lasts, and a love that finds a way to express itself through the simplest of means.