Next up on the Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon is “The Prestige,” a mysterious and suspenseful film about two rival magicians — played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale — who destroy their own lives while trying to destroy each other. Although my husband, Aaron, and I debated on whether to go ahead and review all the films in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in a row, we ended up deciding to watch Nolan’s movies in the order he filmed them. It’s interested that he took time between his Batman movies to work on other films — “The Prestige” and “Inception.”
Nolan doesn’t like to retread the same creative ground, and “The Prestige” tackles a completely different subject than his other projects, while still featuring his signature style as a film maker. Since I’ve been sharing my thoughts first on these blogs, I’m going to let Aaron go first this time and share what he thought about “The Prestige.”
The first time I saw “The Prestige,” it captured me and instantly shot to near the top of my chart of favorite movies. Since then, more than any of the other Nolan movies, it has decayed the most. I still think it’s good, but I’m rarely in the mood to watch it again and that’s because it’s just so difficult to watch. This stems mostly from that fact that, unlike most every other movie of his, this one is hopeless. There’s no good character to latch onto. Everyone’s a monster in their own way and the one good character commits suicide, driven to despair for the sin of wanting to have a relationship with someone.
I’m going to assume the readers of this blog have all seen “The Prestige,” so if you haven’t, do it. The first watch is amazing and is arguably more plot-twist laden than the masterpiece that is “Memento.” The build up to the final twist is so poignant that it alone is worth the price of admission.
Last chance to turn away before spoilers! Still here? Okay, let’s talk about the things I like. As I said before, the twists in the plot are top-notch. They are so well alluded to that the movie itself is reminiscent of a magic act, which I’m sure was the intention from the start. Granted, the movie is based off a novel which I suspect has the same intentions. But a well-paced novel does not a well-paced movie make. The hints at what’s to come are so subtle sometimes that I still pick something new up every time I watch it, and this is probably the seventh-ish time I’ve seen it. The twins, the water tanks, the way the transported man is alluded to when Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) appears in his wife Sarah’s room after we see him walking away, the dueling diaries, the hats at the start. The list goes on and it’s all great.
What do I not like? Some things are not terribly well explained. The fact that Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) has a lot of money because he’s an aristocrat isn’t well established and yet so much hinges on it. Even this time I kept asking myself, “How can he afford this expensive machine and months of hotel stays and transatlantic travel? There’s no way being a magician pays that much.” I seem to recall he mentions at the very start something about not embarrassing his family but that’s about all I can remember in terms of him being alluded to as an aristocrat. I actually had to look that up.
Also, Alfred talks so softly at the end that it took me a long time to realize he had a twin. I thought maybe the lying about Tesla was a double bluff and Tesla had cloned him like Angier clones himself. Tesla and his assistant seemed to know what Angier wanted when he said he wanted a machine that Tesla had made for another magician. How did he know Angier was talking about that machine in particular? Also, if the machine can clone and transport, shouldn’t transporting without cloning be relatively simple? Why is the cloning necessary? For a movie that relies so heavily on a strong plot, there’s a few more holes in it than I’d like.
Overall, “The Prestige” will always be a good movie, especially for people who haven’t seen it. But I am not usually in the mood to watch movies and when I am, it’s rarely for “The Prestige.” I feel that “Memento,” “Donnie Darko” and “The Game” all fill that dark plot twist niche a little better.
While I personally am almost always in the mood to watch movies 😉 I do agree with Aaron about “The Prestige.” The very first time I watched it, I remember it blowing my mind. I didn’t see any of the twists coming, and as one secret after another was revealed, I didn’t think it could get more shocking (it did — and boy, that ending is a doozy). However, like Aaron said, the first time watching this movie is going to be the best. It’s rather like a magic trick; once you know how it’s done, it’s not quite as fascinating.
Christopher Nolan has tackled some dark subjects in his films, but “The Prestige” is arguably one of his darkest. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale’s characters do some pretty despicable things in their quest for revenge, and neither is really redeemed in the end.
Of the two, I found Jackman’s character Robert Angier to be the more sympathetic. (Warning, more spoilers ahead!) His wife dies onstage during a magic act gone wrong, due to a mistake made by Bale’s character Alfred Borden (well, one of the twins). I can understand Angier’s grief and it’s tragic to watch him fall apart, because I feel like in the beginning he was a better person than Borden. However, obsession soon takes over, and Angier becomes the more morally compromised of the main characters. He becomes obsessed with fame and recognition, and with making Borden suffer. It’s a little scary to watch a good person become so twisted as he tries to justify such terrible crimes.
Some might argue that Borden does find some redemption in the end; the “better” twin returns to raise his daughter after the death of his wife. Still, he and his twin’s decision to live as one person, hiding the truth about who they are, is very difficult to justify. Especially since it is hidden from Sarah, the woman one of them loves. She can’t figure out why some days her husband loves her and some days he doesn’t. This is such a heartbreaking and unfair thing to do to another person, and her despair eventually leads to her death.
The film serves as a cautionary tale as to what can happen when revenge and obsession take over a person’s life and mutate them into something terrible. Again, the plot twists don’t have as much of an impact once you know how the film ends, but it is a genuine thrill to watch this movie for the first time, and Nolan handles it masterfully. It’s also a treat to see David Bowie in a small role as real-life inventor Nikola Tesla, who was a true magician in his own right.