In The Apocolypse, Derren Brown pushes reality television, dubious psychological experimentation, a young man called Steven Brosnan and viewers to extreme limits. He believes that by unexpectedly immersing an apathetic, TV watching, cereal munching guy called Steven in an apocalyptic world, his subject will undergo a dramatic transformation in which he realises the full value of life.
A plethora of cameras are set up in the places of Steven’s everyday life, i.e. the kitchen-living room complex, in addition to the meticulously crafted settings of roads and military hospitals, where the terror is to take place. Under the command of the magician, Steven’s news supply is gradually infiltrated. His awareness of a possibly destructive meteorite fall burgeons, before being launched brutally into the action- a mass of actors have worked to surround him in this new world of fireballs and demented humans affected by an extra-terrestrial virus carried on the rocks. In his desperate struggle for survival, Steven goes through the most elemental psychological processes of fear, courage and compassion. He is inescapably bound up in a plot, as Derren subtly controls his transformation, directing the surrounding actors via headphones.
Steven’s acquisition of decisiveness and courage in the face of death seem obvious. His ongoing optimism and growing compassion are striking however. This path, as opposed to one of violence and selfishness, is foreseen by Derren. Once again we see his ability to predict the variable, innermost workings of the human mind. But this time is different. Clever tricks take a back seat, as Steven’s adventure becomes the grand focus. Its cinematic documentation is captivating; as the viewer you share his every breath.
But wait, a repressed voice is screaming out from our collective consciousness… How do we know Steven Brosman is not acting? Steven’s acting profile found on a casting website is inchoate, and the actor in a Noodles advert a look-alike, as evidenced by a video on Derren’s website in which he films the two side by side. Blips in the continuity of scenes are a result of 48 hours of filming being squeezed into one. The hypnosis under the stroke of a hand or a second over the telephone remain mystifying as Derren explains in his Q&A that once hypnosis works on a certain mind, it is built in, making it easy to trigger again, especially in states of shock. For him the accusations are hurtful as he describes the project as ‘heartfelt.’
If genuine, it provides unheard of material for psychology. The lack of post-trauma, as post-apocalyptic Steven says ‘no zombie flashbacks’, is the oddest repercussion. Maybe Steven’s reaction of auto-mind-numbing is why the high degree of psychological torture has not been taken to the courts. Derren tells us TV does not have to go past ethical committees in the way clinical experiments do, which seems questionable.
The greatest victim may be you, the viewer. The absurdity of Steven’s saga leaves you paralyzed. Derren seems to attack the growing comfort bubbles we individually live in in the Western world, with all our superfluous little luxuries. He illuminates the diminished intensity of the most essential parts of the psyche, the elements humans used to rely on before the days of supermarkets and the internet, but upon closer examination the programme isn’t too distant from the world we live in today. On Tuesday the 20th of November, the Leonid meteorite shower reached a peak in its passage over the Earth, in which the atmosphere encountered debris last seen around 1400, the century marked by the footprints of the Black Death. Who needs 4od, the world is strange enough without Derren Brown.