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Prestige, The (2006)

 

Bubbles

Genre: Fantasy Period Drama (USA, UK)

Starring: Hugh Jackman (X-Men The Fountain), Christian Bale (The Secret Agent  The Machinist)

Directed By: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight  Memento)

Overview: At the turn of the century, two magicians develop a rivalry that becomes ever more dangerous, with each man trying to pry the secrets out of the other.

Feel free to click here to skip the spoiler bit at the beginning.

Click here to skip the spoiler: The film ends with the big reveal that the true science behind Angier's magic was more true magic than science. In the film's conclusion we learn that Tesla's Machine creates a live double. The solution to making this trick 'magic' is the same as the one with the bird in a cage - the live double, or The Prestige - must be killed. Angier solves this problem well and in doing so, also manages to frame his rival, Borden, for the murder of Angier's Prestige, which in turn causes Borden's life to be taken and thus, Borden's own Prestige is killed. Now, Borden's secret twin brother can no longer recreate the trick that made him rich and famous, 'The Transported Man'. When the film ends, screenplay writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan have the opportunity to serve poetic justice, to allow Borden to gain access to the Tesla Machine, to allow him to undo the evil Angiers did unto him and make for Borden an even truer twin than ever he had, one that would love his wife every day, perhaps even the he opportunity for making TWO doubles, something that could make 'The Transported Man' trick truly more magical than it had ever been. In the original novel, the physics of the Tesla Machine were different, and many aspects of the film were quite different than the novel. With the Nolans taking so many liberties with the source material, why they never opted for an ending with full-circle story arcs that included these elements of justice and rebirth is surprising, as I saw it as an obvious and more rewarding conclusion, especially for Borden's character, someone who spent his life being a mirror image of himself. In a twist as sudden as the big mystery reveal, it could have made Borden the lucky one, the good guy even. In short, a conclusion I'd much have preferred.

One thing that's sure: there's something up BOTH their sleeves.
One thing that's certain: there's something up BOTH their sleeves.

 

Throughout my life, magic never wowed me too much. Whether live or on TV, when the air of mystery began, I would shift into solution mode, even as a child. Rather than following the white-gloved hand with the blooming flower or the flash of light, I would watch the other hand, the assistant, the stage, always looking for the "How" over being impressed by the showmanship. All that to say: magic is not that interesting to me, because I sometimes have a knack for knowing the trick before it has even begun. The Prestige was no exception. The film was not as exciting as I had hoped. It didn't mystify me, and the reason for that was that I knew the mystery before the trick. That mystery was Christopher Priest, author of the original novel. I read his book, his wide-open book of secrets.

The film opens with Alfred Borden facing trial for the murder of rival stage magician Robert Angier. Borden is accused of drowning Angier in a water tank during a stage show. We jump to a prelude, Alfred and Robert as assistants to Milton the Magician. They play plants in the audience called up as participants to tie up the female stage assistant, Robert Angier's wife, for the water prison trick. One fateful night she drowns, with Angier questioning the knot that Borden tied her hands with. Angier begins his own career and a deadly rivalry with Borden. From ruining each other's tricks at shows to fatal accidents, the two men also vying for the biggest name in the business. Borden seems to have the upper hand with his amazing trick, 'The Transported Man', a trick where it seems he can teleport from one cabinet to another. Angier's quest is to top Borden by using his own trick against him, 'The New Transported Man'. Angier's trick machine however, has a mystery of its own: Nicolai Tesla's invention used for 'The New Transported Man', a large and impressive, terrifying even, electricity-spewing device. As we explore the lives of these two men, the trial that may well send Borden to the noose and how they got there, we explore their secrets, lies and hidden tricks that are the daily existence of these two prestidigitators.

The Prestige is first and foremost a mystery, and an enjoyable one. Frontmen Jackman and Bale are given Nolan's usual brilliant direction, but there's a nice surprise in the roles played by Michael Caine and especially David Bowie in the role of Nicolai Tesla. My favourite shot from this film is Nicolai's grand entrance, as he crosses his laboratory beneath his machine, the large electric coil shooting a hundred beams of lightning across him. Set in late 19th century London, The Prestige's visual spectacle is helped by being a period piece. A solid film with a wonderful series of big mysteries revealed, it's easy to see how it made the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.


My favourite shot of the film
My favourite shot of the film

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 80% (Magical - If you Don't Already Know The Secret)
Aftertaste:
I know that Christopher Priest's novel ruined what this film could have been for meKnowing what I do, it would have been better to have read the novel after. The Prestige was profusely recommended by a previously formidable title suggester. Shortly after I bumped it up the Ziplist, or as you Americans say, 'the Netflix Queue', I noticed by haphazard happenstance Girlfriend of Squish's book collection staring at me - the spine of The Prestige standing our for the first time. I picked it up, happy at the fortuitous synchronicity. As I read the book however, I was just a little disappointed. I was imagining the scenes unfolding before me, described in such a way that in every instance the visual aspect of this story would be so much better. In short, I was eagerly looking forward to the film. When I told my recommending friend that I was also reading the book, mentioning the séance where they meet, his reply was that none of those things happened in the film. I was ever more intrigued.

The Prestige is indeed recommendable, but with a heavy caveat. To the uninitiated, to ye who have not read the novel, you will appreciate this film, especially if you're fans of magic and its mystery. It's a great little story. To you who have read the novel, you will be impressed at how vastly different this screenplay is from the original, not any better or worse. My big disappointments came from knowing the big secrets already. Aside from that, there was only one needling issue that I wish they'd translated from the original source material: the characters of Borden and Angiers. In the novel, both were... weenies... immature, angry men who, in each other's eyes at least, weren't charming or even particularly impressive on the stage. I'd have liked to have seen this, especially from Jackman and Bale. I won't hold my breath to see them acting as anything less than superheroes anytime soon.

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I'm going to disagree with you on this. I didn't know the secret going in, and I found this movie very disappointing at the end. I was intrigued and into it up until the last 15 minutes or so, and the whole thing unraveled. It's spoiler-ific to explain why, so I won't here, but essentially, this film fails for me not on a magic level, but on a human behavior level.

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