TV review: Derren Brown’s Push - the ending is a killer
- Credit: Channel 4
Is it possible to manipulate someone to commit murder? It probably is if your name is Derren Brown and you're a modern-day warlock. New to Netflix, Push is a sobering look at just how easy it is to persuade people to break their moral code.
It began with mis-labelling meat-filled sausage rolls as vegetarian and ended with murder – this is what Morrissey warned us about 25 years ago.
Derren Brown has persuaded a man to shoot Stephen Fry, convinced a woman she was witnessing her own death, pulled a gun on himself during a game of Russian Roulette, coerced pensioners to steal works of art and created the apocalypse to trick someone that the world had ended.
In comparison, compelling someone to push an unpleasant millionaire off a wall seems a bit small, rather than Stephen, Fry.
In Push – formerly Pushed to the Edge when it was on Channel 4 back in 2016, the master mind magician set out to show us that it's possible to bend someone's free will to the point where they'll do absolutely anything to keep an authority figure on their side, a bit like when you agree to go to a grisly family gathering because you're frightened of your mum.
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It began well. 'So, Tom, you've just persuaded a stranger to steal a baby,' Derren told a horrified actor who coerced a member of staff at a cafe to nick a pram by pretending he was a police officer alerting him to a kidnap, 'well done for pushing him into it. But of course what we've got planned will be a lot worse'. Happy days.
The mother in the café and the police officer were actors, the baby made of rubber, the stunt set up to prove what malleable puppets of dimness we all are.
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Derren had bigger fish to fry: he wanted to delve into the complex business of social compliance (I studied this at university, so was desperately annoyed I was watching the show alone, curtailing my opportunity to show off), asking: 'can social compliance be used to push a living, breathing human being to their death?'
Immediately, we knew the answer, this being Derren Brown: yes.
'This is about how readily we hand over authorship of our lives every day,' said Derren, alluding to all manner of things that weren't directly mentioned involving radicalisation, 'social compliance can help keep public order, but can also push people to do terrible acts.'
Terrible acts such as knowingly mis-labelling sausage rolls and claiming they're vegetarian: if someone did that deliberately and I ate one, I'd push them off a wall in a heartbeat.
Chris Kingston, 29, applied to take part in a Derren Brown experiment months before filming but assumed he'd been unsuccessful after a series of tests. Actually, he'd been marked out as a weak-willed compliant who might be coerced into killing someone within an hour or two – I've got several jobs based on the self-same criteria.
Believing he's involved in a big charity event as the designer of a fundraising app, Chris attends the launch of Push which is endorsed by lots of celebrities that have previously been in Brown's shows, all of whom bellow 'PUSH: DO WHATEVER IT TAKES' in video messages to the point where my family would have been grateful for the second time that night they were otherwise engaged or I'd have shoved them off the sofa.
From his arrival at the launch, Chris was on a rollercoaster ride to immorality. Brown has set a terrible trap based on a terrible pun (I think) about the 1989 film Weekend at Bernie's, which involved an elaborate game of hide-the-corpse.
Essentially, Chris meets Push's biggest supporter, reclusive millionaire Bernie, and then in no short order, feeds him meaty vegetarian sausage rolls, watches him have a heart attack, hides his body, pretends to be him in front of a crowd, wheels the corpse around a building – the list of depravity goes on. Chris pretty much goes along with it all
'He's dragging a dead body about the room without questioning it,' said Derren, gleefully, reminding me of many slow dances at Costessey High School discos, 'Chris is now emeshed in a web of lies. He's in too deep.'
After some shenanigans involving drunks asking to have their photograph taken with, they believe, a passed-out Bernie, Chris's accomplice suggesting they kick the body to make it look as if Bernie died after falling down some stairs and then confessing all to the charity board, Chris discovers the corpse has disappeared.
Surprise! He wasn't dead. He had a sleeping sickness and was now awake, on the roof and properly riled.
'Just walk up to him, put your hand on his back and give him one big push,' said one of the more charitable members of the fake charity board to Chris after Bernie threatened to turn them over to the police and withdraw his £5 million donation. Would malleable puppet of dimness Chris do it?
No. Hooray! Our faith in humanity and decency was restored…for a full five minutes before we were told that three other subjects who were put through the same paces decided to kill Bernie. Oh. It was all a bit depressing, really, although I suppose any programme that starts with a scenario involving a stranger stealing a baby because someone on the phone tells him to isn't likely to be a barrel of laughs.
I'm not sure we need Brown to tell us that the majority of us can be manipulated to do dreadful things because someone charismatic tells us to – I think history lessons about Nazi Germany covered that – and I'm also not quite sure how I was supposed to feel about Pushed to the Edge. Entertained? Horrified? Amused? Educated?
In short, I prefer it when Derren makes old people half-inch paintings.
The master of mind control, Derren Brown – whose tour comes to the East of England in the summer – has announced he will be appearing in two Netflix specials later this year.
On Twitter, Brown said: '(Gentle cough) pleased to announce that The Push (To The Edge) will be show non Netflix from Feb 27th worldwide. Two more specials will appear on Netflix later this year, including a big brand new one, which I have just today completed filming. Have been secretly very busy.'
The award-winning master of illusion brought his Underground show to Ipswich's Regent Theatre last summer and will be performing the show at Norwich's Theatre Royal on June 19 to 23, which brings together a collection of his best work and promises a jaw-dropping experience of magical genius and epic showmanship.
Brown is the latest British star to sign a deal with Netflix, following fast in the footsteps of Ricky Gervais and Charlie Brooker. Catastrophe writer Sharon Horgan has recently signed a deal with Amazon, but has promised that her sitcom about the perils of one-night stands and parenting she co-writes with Rob Delaney will remain on Channel 4.
* Tickets for Derren Brown's Norwich dates are available from www.theatreroyal.co.uk or by calling the box office on 01603 630000.