They are an Illuminati who are guided solely by science, reason and pragmatism – not some ethereal magickal mysticism. In fact, the magickal, mystery tour which Nicholas is enveloped in is merely part of the journey. While at first Nicholas is led to believe that Conchis and his associates think they have experienced metempsychosis and are reincarnated, eventually these facts become irrelevant. Nicholas is led into a massive psychological game, where it is he who is the subject of all the events. In this, Jungian psychoanalysis comes to the fore, as well as Sartrean elements of existential crisis. Meanwhile, Conchis, and his round table of occult gods and deities have engineered all the events of Nicholas’ life after Oxford, including the time spent with Alison, to bring him to the island as the test subject.
The book is spiced throughout with references to Tarot cards, greek deities, Baphomet, gnosticism, ritual initiation, the Eleutherian mysteries, etc. Conchis eventually reveals to Nicholas, when he’s drugged, captured and placed in the judgment role that the real secret is science. While Nicholas is supposed to “judge” the rest of the Illuminists present under the sign of the Pentagram and Baphomet, Nicholas ends up confounded as the group of doctors and PhDs present dissect his entire life with psychoanalysis. Nicholas is then forced to watch a pornographic film with the girl he loves that has been intertwined with his own time spent on the island, recorded by numerous secret cameras. Here Bentham/Foucault-style Panopticism emerges, as the prisoner is subjected to the all-pervading gaze of the eye of the elite. Nicholas not only cannot escape their influence and power, he is also held captive to the narrative they may construct about himself and his life. In short, he is helpless, though he thinks he is “free” in his atheism and nihilism.
Maurice, then, turns out to be a combination of the trickster/magus, as well as the prince/ruler, with his unlimited wealth. He can hire any actors, recreate any scenes, arrange any events he so desires. No matter where Nicholas goes, or what he does, he cannot escape Maurice’s designs. Every time Nicholas tries to construct a “mask” or excuse or identity for himself, he is reminded of the existential dictum that he is “condemned to be free.” He continues to operate in Sartrean “bad faith” and “inauthenticity” to the end, until he appears to concede that he is helpless.
Overall, the book is worth reading, and ends on an open note, where the reader is invited to interpret Nicholas’ final interaction with Alison as he or she wants. This fits well with the meta-narrative theme of the work, where the reader is also in a sense, playing a game, as well as part of the grand masque that is reality. Fowles wants the reader to realize that his or her reality is also part of this play that we call reality, that includes a heavy dose of fiction. And that fiction is largely manipulated by the Illuminati – namely, those billionaires and world-controllers who have an entirely different code of ethics. A code whereby the manipulation of reality and world events is not seen as something inherently evil, but instead a kind of game or labyrinth. As such, the novel becomes one of the top “Illuminist” novels ever written, akin to Atlas Shrugged.
The movie is no good, but it gives a decent visual idea of what is going on: