Film is a magic trick. Illusions of fictitious people and places fill a two dimensional space before us for an hour or so and we choose to believe it. It’s not real and we know it. Many times we know how these tricks are done, but that’s not the point. When real magic flows from the screen, you’re not looking for the trick. You want to believe. I believe that is the point and spirit of The Prestige.
Readers, please be patient with how vague my following review may seem. I want to discuss The Prestige spoiler free, yet I know that the slightest mention of an event can bring an avalanche of spoilers to the unsuspecting reader. Believe me, this film is quite a ride the first time you see it, free of any preconceived notions.
In Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, we witness an ongoing feud between two rival magicians in Victorian London. Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden and Hugh Jackman plays Robert Angier. They first work together as plants (volunteers that that seem picked at random from the audience) in an act, but after an incident occurs, they become bitter enemies sabotaging each other’s solo careers. Robert yearns for what Alfred has: family and an gobsmacking transported man act. He becomes obsessed with discovering Alfred’s secret to the trick and go to many lengths to create his own transported man act, but at what cost?
I have seen this film at least five times now, and I still find myself trying to wrap my mind around everything. The first time I saw this, I was a bit lost at times, but always fascinated. We are not shown everything in perfect chronological order, but rather the order to which will best pique our interest. Like I said, Nolan is creating a film like a magic trick. In every act he must show us the pledge, then the turn before revealing the prestige. If it’s not leaving you searching putting the puzzle together, he has not done it quite right.
At the Oscars, The Prestige was nominated for only two awards: art direction and cinematography. That would make you think it’s a very visual film. It is, especially when the connections with Tesla come into play, but the strength the film carries is in it’s complexity and how it heightens our curiosity until the very end.
There are some fun, yet downplayed surprises. David Bowie plays a role as the famed Nikola Tesla. And only in my latest viewing did I realize that Tesla’s assistant was none other that Andy Serkis. So nice to see him as a non-CGI character. There is also Scarlett Johansson, as a lovely assistant, and Michael Caine as a manager connecting the two rivals from beginning to end.
I understand there is a point in the film that some people believe it breaks ranks. Suddenly the film’s perceived reality is more than it seems. I don’t worry about it, this film holds my suspension of disbelief. What I always find intriguing is trying to figure out the difference between the prestige and the man in the box. Is it really the same person? What are the consequences?
While The Prestige is still a very young film, I believe that it is destined to become a classic. It’s simply a tale of rivalry, but set to the era of early of magicians, like Houdini. It becomes an intoxicating ride that twists and turns in ways you could not have expected, but love to believe.
“The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.”