Is the 1997 Movie The Game a Rip-Off
of The Magus?
By Bob Goosmann
Note: the following gives away key plot points in both the
novel The Magus and the movie The
Game. If you have not already read/seen them, proceed at
your own risk (for the sake of simplicity, I’m assuming that
everyone who reads this has at least read The
When watching the David Fincher film The Game at a movie theater shortly after
its release in 1997, I began to get a strange feeling that
the whole thing seemed vaguely familiar. Near the end of the
film—a very good one, in my opinion—I realized with a shock
why I was feeling this way. I eagerly searched the closing
credits for some sign of the words "The Magus"
or "John Fowles," to no avail.
I have no idea whether the screenwriters of The Game—John
Broncato and Michael Ferris—actually based their overall premise
on The Magus. But I’d be willing to bet that one or
both of them read it at some point. Perhaps their unconscious
memory of the book colored their screenplay, or maybe they
intended the movie as a subtle homage to the book…but the
parallels definitely seem more than coincidental.
Let’s start with the most obvious connection: the main character
of The Magus is Nicholas Urfe; the main character of
The Game is Nicholas Van Orton (played by Michael Douglas
and henceforth referred to as Douglas). In itself, not that
unusual--although you would expect a more mainstream name
for Douglas’ mainstream character. But in the context of what’s
to come, it’s a truly amazing "coincidence."
Although separated by perhaps 25 years age-wise, the two characters
are very similar. Nicholas is a handsome, jaded, rather miserable
young man who has no idea what’s really important in life;
Douglas is a handsome, jaded, rather miserable middle-aged
man who has no idea what’s really important in life.
In addition, the individual who draws Nicholas into the
"game" in The Magus is named Conchis; in the movie, this
role is played by his brother, named Conrad. Again, a remarkable
The basic premise of both stories is the same: a man is thrust
into a "game" in which rational rules do not apply,
no one can be trusted and the purpose is obscure (one of the
alternative titles that Fowles considered for The Magus
was actually The Godgame).
In The Game, Douglas is drawn into a mysterious situation
by Conrad, who gives him a card for his birthday that
entitles him to a "game" put on by Consumer Recreation
Services (CRS). He is subsequently told by a CRS representative
that "each game is specifically tailored for each participant"
(as was Nicholas’ game by Conchis) and that "we provide
whatever is lacking" (as Conchis ultimately provided
As Douglas is drawn deeper into the game, he meets a mysterious
blonde named Christine who, like Julie in The Magus,
rapidly shifts back and forth between trusted friend and suspicious
conspirator. After things have gotten way out of hand, she
ends up hiding out with Douglas at a remote cabin…and the
following scene could have been lifted directly from The
Douglas is drugged by Christine (as was Nicholas after "The
Trial") and wakes up to find himself in a Mexican
grave. The parallel between this scene and Nicholas waking
up on top of the Greek ruins is profound…the end of each game
is being indicated (supposedly) by the abrupt change in setting
and tone. It is now up to Douglas (and Nicholas) to turn detective
in an effort to find out what it was all about.
While, unlike The Magus, the ending of The Game
is full of the pyrotechnics one would expect from a major
Hollywood movie, both Douglas and Nicholas end up in a similar
place: wiser, more mature, able to better understand what
life is really about, and ultimately appreciative of the ordeal
that they have been put through. And both the movie and the
book conclude on an ambiguous note.
Also interesting: Conchis' fictional movie company in The Magus was called "Polymus
Films," while The Game was distributed by "Polygram
During a visit with Fowles in 1998, I asked him if he had seen The Game, and if so, if he had noticed
the parallels with The Magus. It turns out that not
only had he seen the movie, but he actually considered suing
the producers. His lawyers ultimately decided, however, that
it would be a difficult case to prove.