The Prestige

  • Title:  The Prestige
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date 2006
  • Studio:  Touchstone, Warner Brothers
  • Genres:  Drama, SF, Historical
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Mark Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray, R1

“But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough, you have to bring it back.  That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call… The Prestige.” – Mr. Cutter, narrating

“I love you.” – Alfred Borden
“Not today.  Well, some days it’s not true, and today you don’t mean it.  Maybe today you’re more in love with magic than me.  I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something.” – Sarah Borden

“I don’t want to kill doves.” – Robert Angier
“Then stay off stage.  You’re a magician not a wizard.  You gotta’ get your hands dirty if you’re going to achieve the impossible.” – Mr. Cutter

“I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it.” – Nikola Tesla

“The truly extra-ordinary is not permitted in science and industry.  Perhaps, you’ll find more luck in your field – where people are happy to be mystified.” – Tesla

The Prestige is a film about envy, jealousy, and obsession. But rather than jealousy over someone else’s relationship with a third person; or obsession with a person, The Prestige is about professional jealousy and obsession with an idea. Add to that it’s unusual structure, and it’s a fascinating film, that’s intriguing to watch.

This is the story of two stage magicians in the 1890s. They start off as friends, working with an ingenue (or magic trick designer) and a female magician (Julia, played by Piper Perabo) who is married to one of them (Angiers, played by Hugh Jackman). Bordan (Bale) seems to be jealous of Angiers relationship with his wife, though this is not obviously stated. And when Julia dies performing a water-tank trick, after Bordan tied her hands – Angiers becomes angry and blames Bordan for the accident. However, this definitely doesn’t become your cut-and-dried “you killed my wife – I’m going to get revenge” film. Even by the end of the film, we don’t really know if Bordan deliberately tied the wrong knot or if it really was an accident. However, the death of Julia is the spark that turns a friendship into a rivalry – and then into professional jealousy, and finally into obsession. As the film unfolds Angiers and Bordan both one-up each other, and both simply do horrible things to each other – physically harming each other, undercutting each other’s stage acts, and simply just not letting the rivalry rest but escalating it with each act of the film.

The structure of the film is also different.  It starts with the end, then tells the story through a series of interweaving flashbacks that tell the story in short scenes that not only move forward and back in time, but change point of view as well. The film begins with Angiers dying in a stage magician’s trick and Bordan being arrested and charged with his murder. The flashbacks explain their history, their rivalry, and Angiers growing obsession with Bordan’s trick:  The Transported Man. Angiers follows his obsession to Colorado where he meets Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis), and convinces them to build a special machine for him. Angiers both gets what he wants and gets much more than he bargained for. But, as the story unfolds – and different parts of the story are told first from Angiers point of view and then from Bordan’s, the audience learns more and more about these characters – the doomed characters.

Because the flashbacks are interweaving, as an audience member, not only is one forced to pay very close attention in order to follow the film – but one is also, constantly rearranging the scenes in one’s head. Especially the first time I watched this film, as I watched it, I found myself thinking, “OK, so this goes before that, and this goes before that, etc.”  But unlike other films with a lot of editing and scenes that aren’t presented in chronological order – with The Prestige, that the film’s story is essentially presented in reverse order before returning to the present and then again turning on a dime, everything in the story is crystal clear.  You will not be confused by the story – at all, once you get used to the style and concentrate on the plot.

I’m determined to not spoil this excellent film, but it is also very dark and even somewhat disturbing. To explain just what is going on, and how, would destroy the experience of seeing this film.  It’s excellent, with an excellent cast, incredible direction, and it’s very thought-provoking. However, it is very, very dark.  I mean, I’ve seen film noir before, but the final implications of this film really push the envelope into disturbing territory. Oh, and by disturbing – I do not in any way mean “gross” or bloody, or any of the typical tropes of horror. I wouldn’t even call this a horror film. Do not avoid this film simply because of a prejudice against horror – that is not what it is at all.

Recommendation:   See it
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception