Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Prestige

By Sati. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , , ,
(130 min, 2006)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan (screenplay)
Stars: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson


“You traveled far
What have you found
That there's no time
There's no time
To analyse
To think things through
To make sense “

- Thom Yorke, “Analyse”

There are only several movies I consider to be masterpieces. But Christopher Nolan never fails, well, except for the last 15 minutes of “the Dark Knight”. On the heels of “Inception” premiere I have come to realize I haven't even reviewed “The Prestige” yet, which I suspect, until I see “Inception” (the dream theme puts that movie in the privileged position for me) remains my favorite movie by Nolan. Here is the director who never made a bad movie, who reinvented Batman films, gave us the thrilling and able to induce amazing headache “Memento” and “Insomnia” where Al Pacino finally had something to work with.

“The Prestige” follows the story of rivalry between two magicians – Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). They used to work together, but a terrible tragedy in which Angier's wife died tore them apart. Angier blames Borden for her death. Soon after this events Borden comes up with a mind blowing trick "The Transported Man" where he disappears in one door and appears in another. Angier starts to be obsessed with finding out the method and copying the trick.

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. 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".
The movie is also built like the magic trick. In The Pledge we see two men, the accident in which Angier loses his wife, the beginning of the rivalry. We see how determined both mean are – each of them has the same goal – to be the best in their business and successful as the magician and to destroy the opponent.
In “The Turn” we see the extraordinary lengths to which the men will go to. Angier believes Borden did his trick thanks to the help of Nikola Tesla, brilliant inventor. He abandons his life and goes to Colorado, spends a fortune, event sends the woman he loves, Olivia (Scarlett Johansson) to spy for him. He also goes that far to lead to the arrest of Alfred. Borden on the other hand risks his health, his family's happiness and uses dirty tricks – gets Angier's double drunk and humiliates him in front of the audience and plants a journal in order to fool Angier.

In “The Prestige” we find out two men we saw and maybe even had sympathy for did truly terrible things – two big twists are involved – we find out that Tesla constructed a special machine for Angier – machine that was able to clone him (this is the only supernatural element in the story, that's why it is so unexpected – yes, it's pure fantasy, but unlike the ridiculous sonar in “The Dark Knight” it actually serves the story and brings in some interesting moral questions). That way Angier, who never figured out Borden's method, was able to copy his trick and make it even better. We find out each night during the show he cloned himself and appeared again somewhere else in the theater. But the Angier who was standing on the stage in the moment of the trick would fell into a tank below it and drown. So every night Angier had to kill his own self, never knowing if he will be the one in the tank, or the one who sees the amazing applause from the audience. The second twist is the Borden's method. Throughout the movie Angier's helper Cutter (Michael Caine) has been saying that Borden uses the double and Angier denied it. By the end of the movie we find out that it was indeed the truth. Borden had a twin borther who pretended to be his assistant Fallon. They kept it in secret, Fallon almost never spoke, was quiet and timid. But sometimes he took off the disguise and impersonated Borden.

In this moment, the viewers' sympathy turns into pity at best – here are two mean who did the unthinkable. At one point of the movie Olivia still believes Angier's obsession with Borden is caused by the death of his wife. But he shouts out “I don't care about my , I only care about his secret!”. He was so far away in his madness he couldn't get back. He plotted entire scheme where Borden (in reality Fallon, who was in love with Olivia) ended up in jail and was hang for something he never did. Angier killed innocent men, hundreds of times. And it is all because of his pride – Angier decided to use the double at the one point of the film, but since he was the one under the stage, he didn't get to see the applause. And he wanted that. That kept him going farther and farther.

Borden was only slightly better – he deceived his wife who shared her married life and bed with not one person, as she was led to believe, but two. Neither Borden nor his brother could have normal life, they only got little parts of it.
All of that in case of both man was because of the mad love for what they did – magic. Angier almost confesses before he dies it was all worth it because of the look on the audience's faces. For one short moment they wondered, because what they knew was denied by what they were seeing. Borden and his brother went to self mutilation, they denied themselves almost everything because they wanted to be the best. Borden's life is parallel in old Chinese magician, Angier and Borden see in the beginning of the movie. That man pretended to be sick and feeble all the time, when in reality he was insanely strong. The show was not just in theater – the show lasted through every second of his life.

I felt sympathy for Borden's and I can't really explain why – maybe it was because in reality it was Fallon who tied the wrong knot and caused death of Angier's wife. Maybe it was because of the fact Borden had a little daughter whom he loved very much. But in the end he had his brother – someone to confide in, someone who understood him. Angier was all alone.

It's also interesting how, despite the similarities between both man Angier is presented as fantastic showman, classy and wealthy man who has resources to spend, fortune to buy the things he need and Borden, who is lousy at presentation but very imaginative, poor and hardly able to provide for his family. It is also reflected in both men stage names – Angier's “ “The Great Danton” and Borden's “The Professor”

Another thing I noticed was that the women Borden and Angier loved died like they did - Angier's wife drowned in the tank and Sarah hang herself. Granted, Fallon who died by hanging really loved Olivia, but he shared moments with Sarah too.

Both man pay the price for their deeds but it's Borden who ultimately wins. Angier loses his life, everyone around him, even Cutter. Borden loses his brother but in the end because of the Cutter, in powerful scene which reminds us the rules of the great trick, he is reunited with his daughter.

Cutter is the stage engineer who worked with both men in the beginning but later his sympathy shifted to Angier. But when he saw what machine did and that Angier put Borden in prison and plans to take his daughter away from him, he decides to help Borden.

Tesla, played by David Bowie was an actual inventor, once regarded as mad scientist. Here he is in the process of working on electrical current and competes with Thomas Edison, which also parallels Angiers and Borden's fight.

Olivia, who first works with Robert and then has affair with Fallon is played by Scarlett Johansson, who really is perfectly cast. Pretty assistant, but also clever girl, who knows when enough is enough and when to run away. Borden's wife Sarah is played by Rebecca Hall who does, as usual very good job. Both women as used to show how far the men will go in their obsessions – Sarah loses his life because of the terrible secret she discovers and Olivia is passed around like a toy between the rivals. I liked how Nolan planted the idea of something supernatural and perhaps even devilish in audience's minds when Sarah screamed to Borden “I know what you are!” the line was not in the script, but Nolan used it anyways. Very good move, when I was watching the movie for the first time I was sure that Bale's character will turn out to have some unthinkable secret.

The visual side of the movie is very gloomy and grim and reflects the darkness of two men. There is notching glamorous about the tricks, because we see how they are done and we get to witness entire process, very complex and dangerous, of preparing magic tricks. There are so stunning images in the movie, though, for example the field of light bulbs. The music composed by David Julyan is quite monotonous, but it's also ominous and brings a very serious feeling to the movie – it's also very memorable and has a clear theme. The ending song is Thom Yorke's “Analyse” and I thought using that piece was brilliant move.

In my opinion the film is much better than “Memento” because movie going experience is supposed to be at least a little entertaining. “Memento” was brilliant, but too heavy. “The Prestige” is also complicated, but even if you know the story and all the twists you can still re-watch it many times, because of fantastic acting and all the little details you missed the first time. This is a movie about tricks and it manages to trick the audience too, never insulting their intelligence. The meticulous screenplay and fantastic acting from both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman keeps you watching on the edge of your seat.


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