Derren Brown: Pushed to the Edge

Whatever he does, whether it’s a card trick, spin a roulette wheel, count toothpicks, or create a zombie apocalypse, it’s always very exciting and, yes, very moving as well. Derren Brown. British magician, illusionist, mentalist, créateur d’expériences sociales, has done it again. Pushed to the Edge is a psychological trap, really, in which an innocent man is being manipulated in order to push another man off a roof.


Object of Affection
Never a dull moment with Derren Brown; he always has something up his sleeve. An experiment. Trick. Stunt. Mind game. He’s made people do things in the past they never would’ve done if they hadn’t been under hypnosis. This time, Brown solely relies on social circumstance. And farce. He doesn’t even meet his object of affection, Chris, until the experiment is over.

Chris is a regular joe. IT guy. ‘Tech guru’. He’s invited to a fund raiser, populated by actors, as an opportunity to network. Some people with deep pockets, there, like Bernie. Tom, the organiser of the night, shows Chris around, has him do all kinds of small tasks. Small questionable tasks, like labelling meaty snacks as vegetarian. Tom introduces him to Bernie, and that’s when Chris’s world slowly starts crumbling. Before they know it, Bernie gets a heart attack. Dead. Tom and Chris are the only ones there. The room where the bidding is going to take place, isn’t open to the guests yet. So they’ve got a dead body on their hands. A dead body who was going to donate a lot of money to the charity foundation PUSH. This is where the farce element comes in. Bernie has to be hidden; sound familiar? It’s Fawlty Towers all over again. They’ll inform the police once all the funds are raised; the future of PUSH depends on it.

The Wooden Crate
Luckily, there’s a wooden crate in the back room. Chris hesitates. Dignity is not in a crate, he says, but Tom persuades him to go along with it. There just isn’t another way. The fund raiser begins, and although Chris is not feeling too happy about everything, Bernie’s out of sight. All he needs to do is wait until the night is over, call an ambulance and that’ll be the end of it. Unfortunately for Chris, Derren Brown sits behind the controls.

The Kick
The crate comes into play during the auction, which forces Chris and Tom’s hand to move Bernie elsewhere. They decide on leaving the body at the bottom of the stairs. That way, if people find him, they’ll think he fell down. Chris goes along with Tom, who’s getting directions from Brown through an ear piece, but he can’t be made to kick Bernie’s body in order to bruise him – which would’ve happened if he’d indeed fallen down the staircase. He won’t feel anything, Tom says, but no, that goes too far.

Tom can’t keep up their charade any longer, especially when Bernie’s wife is put into the equation. He confides in three people in charge of security they’d met earlier that evening, and lets Chris ‘tell everything’ that happened. When they take them to the stairs, Bernie’s gone. Chris and Tom were informed by his wife that Bernie could possibly have something that looks like a heart attack when he doesn’t take his pills. He might not be dead, after all.

In true B-movie fashion, Bernie’s shouting at Chris and Tom from on top of the staircase; he’s gone to the roof, for some reason (to smoke). Everybody follows him. Bernie’s (accidentally) recorded everything that Chris and Tom have made him gone through, and is outraged. It’s all a bit too good (or strange) to be true, these last couple of twists, but Chris is in it now. His tunnel vision keeps him from stopping and realize, this is all just bit too far-fetched, people. Who’s pulling my chain?

The Push
Bernie sits on top of the roof (on the edge), his back turned away. PUSH can forget about his money, that’s for sure. Chris already thought he was dead, so why not push him off the edge? It’s a win-win for everyone. Except for Bernie, of course, but everybody agrees this is what needs to happen and Chris should be the one to do it. It’s an incredible, silly, dark, emotional ride Brown has taken us on, once again. Every step of the way you’re feeling for Chris. You’re also trying to imagine what you would’ve done in his place. Social obedience is a powerful thing, that’s for sure. Chris hasn’t been the only lab rat. Brown has orchestrated this twisted game for three other people. Out of the four test subjects, three gave Bernie a push at the end (he was hooked to cables and everything; he’s fine). There’s a deep lesson here: ‘You can’t always be on guard, because then you’ll live your life constantly on edge (…) but when certain situations present themselves, do think about it before you act upon it, and think what am I doing?’, as Chris puts it afterwards. ‘By understanding how we can be manipulated, we can become stronger. (…) We can push back’, as Brown puts it. I love this guy.

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