Could you be manipulated into committing a murder? That's the question the trailer for the new Netflix reality special The Push asks. In this special, streaming Feb. 27, British “psychological illusionist” Derren Brown is out to prove that social pressure is a very scary motivator. Brown enlists one unsuspecting man to see if he's strong enough to make his own decisions when a situation turns fatal, or if he'll fall to "social compliance," agreeing to do what the crowd tells him even if he knows it's wrong. From the looks of the trailer, it's going to be a long and bumpy ride that will leave you wondering just how strong your moral compass is.
The first few seconds of The Push trailer will surely increase your heart rate. It starts with two older men discussing auction prices as Chris, the special's unwitting guinea pig, looks on concerned. As one of the men begins to get more upset, he falls to the ground clutching his left arm. Soon, Chris is running off to find the man's pills. "Chris is enmeshed in a web of lies," Brown narrates as poor Chris runs around looking for the pills he'll never find. "And that's important," Brown continues. "I need him to feel like there's only one way out when he's told to commit murder."
And the unknowing Chris is forced to participate in a terrifying experiment of epic proportions. Seventy actors will act out a "meticulously planned and rehearsed scenario to manipulate this man who has no idea he's being filmed," Brown says.
And why is Brown doing this? Well, as he explains, this special is really about one thing — and oh, is it a doozy: "Can we be manipulated through social pressure to commit murder?"
Just seconds later, Chris is shown moving a body out of a banquet hall and thinking that he's an accessory to a crime that he doesn't realize is fake. The thing is, every decision Chris makes is real and could lead him to "push a living breathing human being to their death." How? Brown says because someone in authority asks him. It's Brown's way of seeing how far people can be radicalized.
This is a provocative experiment, and Brown knows it. But, for those that already know Brown it falls in line with some of his other psychological illusions. Brown is a mentalist and hypnotist whose previous stunts include The Heist, in which he persuaded a group of businessmen and women to participate in an armed robbery back in 2006.
Last year, Brown made his U.S. debut with an off-Broadway show called Derren Brown: Secret, which the New York Times said teaches theatergoers that the stories we tell ourselves are "inevitably simplifications of the complexities of real life." It's all a lie.
Reading that, you might think that Brown is completely full of it; a common take on the mentalist's experiments is that they're just plain manipulative. When The Push aired overseas in 2016, The Guardian questioned whether Brown hadn't gone too far with this one. "The whole elaborate stunt is set up so Brown can pay homage to the late '80s comedy caper Weekend at Bernie’s," the paper explained. Knowing that the old man is named "Bernie," does make it a little harder to take this thing seriously.
But, The Push may actually force you to think about how others influence your decisions. It may even lead you to worry whether it would be far enough to become an accessory to a crime and in the end, that's what Brown really wants you to think about.