Magic Mike comes out this Friday, and no doubt you've seen the trailers. Channing Tatum and that guy from Beastly bopping around in little teeny outfits and struggling with being objectified. But the trailers don't answer the crucial question about this film — how exactly does magic work in the world of Magic Mike? *
You haven't seen this film, and neither have we. But we drank a great quantity of tequila, and watched the trailer a few times. And here's what we gleaned about the framework of magic in Magic Mike. Just in time for you to start writing your Harry Potter crossover fic.
Energy cannot be created or destroyed, even with magic.
This is something that Channing Tatum is clearly concerned about — because just look at the way in which he harnesses the energy from an elseworldly realm by lowering his center of gravity to the point where his pelvis is horizontal while his torso is fully upright. He is creating an energy vortex, into which eldritch, elemental forces can flow. Call it qi, call it prana, call it the Force — it is something that flows through all living things. Magic Mike's power stems from providing a focal point for this energy flow, because his jockstrap is an amulet, somewhat akin to the Eye of Agamotto. (Please, no wand jokes. This is a serious topic here.)
When you do magic, there is always a cost.
This is why so many women are shoving dollar bills into Magic Mike's pants. They are fortifying him as a magical warrior, the dollar bills are his armor. As he tells his female friend in the trailer, "You don't want to know what I have to do for a $20," because the reverse is also true — the higher the reward, the more powerful the magic. You'll notice that Magic Mike performs most of his rituals in the form of dances, and this is no accident. Dancing is in itself a magical act. In Lev Grossman's Magicians novels, magic is performed via hand gestures, but one particularly adroit magician has lost his hands and yet still manages to cast spells, using his body. I believe something similar is transpiring in Magic Mike — but the more strenuous the dance, the more it weakens Magic Mike, and the more he needs to be reconnected to The Green. For those dollar bills are not mere currency, but a symbolic representation of the place where plant life and the natural world spring from, much like where Swamp Thing goes to hang out. Possibly, in the sequel, Magic Mike could go on a quest to meet Swamp Thing?
To be invisible, you must first be fully seen.
When Harry Potter wants to be invisible, he merely covers himself with a magical cloak — but Magic Mike must expose himself completely in order to disappear afterwards. That is why he has the tearaway pants, which are like a Visibility Cloak. Magic is full of paradoxes. In one of the trailers, someone asks Magic Mike to remember that there's a whole world in the daylight, a world in which nobody knows him — but Magic Mike is already aware of this. He is the quintessential urban fantasy hero, whose magic only gains strength after dark. In the secret places, in the city hidden inside the city.
Names have power.
That's why Magic Mike has his "stage name," with which he creates a whole separate self. It is as if his true name were inscribed in a secret place, in the lost Enochian alphabet of the angels, perhaps. Because if you knew Magic Mike's true name, you could have power over him — but as long as he remains known only as Magic Mike, he is the one with the power. At one point in one of the trailers, he tells his girlfriend that she's not talking to Magic Mike right now, because it's the daytime. (She's talking to regular Mike, in case you were wondering.)
An incantation is an invocation.
Which means that when you recite certain forms of words, such as "Take it off," you are also summoning someone. Or something. And when Magic Mike gives a woman a lapdance, he is actually inscribing Gnostic runes onto her pelvis. He leaves behind a sigil, a sign of power, which can be visible to anyone who has The Sight. These runes are a language of power, and they speak to wild forces of creation.
Magicians are shapeshifters and tricksters.
And that's why Magic Mike and the rest of his man-coven dress as police officers when they visit people at their homes, with the ritual of the tear-away pants. The ritual of the tear-away pants is not nearly as effective without the magical disguise, because it relies on disrupting the illusion that this is a real police officer. But Magic Mike is capable of taking on many forms, because he is Of The Night. He can be tough, baggy-pants-wearing roughneck, or a cowboy, or perhaps an umbrella-twirling raincoat dancer guy. Whatever that last one is. The point is, Magic Mike is a shapeshifter, who derives power from the forms he takes on. Also: The waxing of the chest is a key ritual of power. One does not simply wax the chest to remove unwanted hairs — rather, the waxing is a kind of mystical preparation that enables Magic Mike to assume many forms. You cannot work the ritual of the tear-away pants without first performing the waxing of the chest.
The things you do with Magic Mike cannot be spoken of to the outside world.
Like so many other urban fantasy realms, the place Magic Mike inhabits is secret. As someone explains in one of the clips or trailers, it's not a school. It's not a country club. It is not a book club — although you may lie and tell your hubby that it was actually a book club. The places that Magic Mike inhabits are known only to those who are outside the rules of the mundane world. And even to those people, the true nature of Magic Mike cannot truly be understood, much less spoken of. As Matthew McConaughey explains in this clip, Magic Mike is the hot guy who never talked to you in real life, the caring boyfriend you could never truly have, and so on. In other words, Magic Mike's true magic is to become a symbol for that which words cannot convey. In this way, he is not unlike John Constantine, whose doorway is inscribed with symbols. He is like Sam and Dean Winchester, who touch the lives of many people but can never be spoken of. And so on.
And now you're ready to watch Magic Mike with a fuller understanding of the system of magic that's being deployed therein. No need to thank us.
* There's bound to be one smartass who tries to tell us that Magic Mike is not actually a fantasy movie, despite the fact that it has a) Magic in the title, b) fancy costumes, c) the dude from Beastly. We know what we're talking about here — we've seen Eragon.