Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is about a tragedy which cause a great rivalry between two aspiring magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) as they both try to defeat each other by creating the greatest illusion in the history of magic.
When you see the name Christopher Nolan, you know you are in for something great. The guy even made the superhero genre great and that is your pass to the hall of legends and if this guy isn’t the Stanley Kubrick of our times, nobody is. I had my doubts with The Prestige, I admit. It is based on a novel of the same name by Christopher Priest. Now, I had my doubts not because I thought the Nolan siblings are going to falter in the film-making but I had serious doubts if during the process of adapting a 404 pages book into a 130 minutes movie will falter. Magic, as we know it, is the perfect harmony of the steps and if the magician falters in one step, the whole act goes down. And to adapt a 404 page trick with steps being interconnected in every phase is a humongous task to be accomplished in a 2 hour movie. But, I forgot we were talking about Christopher Nolan.
The screenplay became the trick, and what it made it more special, what made it great, is the showmanship. There is a tension that Nolan carries right from the dressing room after the first show to the climax that drifts us away to the later half of the 19th century. The Prestige begins on a slow note. The story progresses as a tragedy of mishaps and we see, and sorry I stand corrected, we feel the tension between them. And then, it is time for the big guns.
When Borden comes up with The Transportation Man, the greatest trick Angier ever sees. And in it, Nolan triggers pure sheer magic and also the demonic nature of a rivalry which intensifies after every performance. There is a driving force beyond each of the character. Angier’s is the demise of his love, after which he works just to justify his title ‘The Great Danton’. Borden’s is his conquest to do something great, so great that Angier won’t be able to figure it out.
The common mistake that directors do when they make a movie which pits two individuals of the same calibre is that they make the audience love one of them from the start to the end, and the other one repugnant from the first to the last. There are dire need of moments when the audience is in a fix about which character they will chose as their sweetheart. The most accomplished work in this aspect is Ron Howard’s Rush which put me in Niki Lauda’s side first, then James Hunt and then did the unbelievable, in the climax, I viewed them both as equals, without any prejudice cornered to any of them. I won’t say this movie accomplished this aspect, and thankfully it shouldn’t have as well, but there is a line from Rush in which Niki says, and I am paraphrasing ,”You learn more from an enemy than you learn from a friend. And a good nemesis keeps you going.” The tragedy or the reason of the satanic fog around the rivalry of Angier and Borden is their inability to comprehend this fact.
Hugh Jackman is brilliant as Angier. Christian Bale is superb. Michael Caine works like he always does, the safe bet of Nolan. Scarlett Johansson gives an average performance. Andy Serkis and David Bowie are spectacular.
The cinematography is just beautiful. That scene in which those light bulbs flash in a white snowy layout is just fabulous. Wally Pfister then follows the lead of Dick Pope by using small lightings set against a dark background giving the set-up a dark and grim sensation, just like Pope’s The Illusionist released the same year, when magic smeared the cinematic arena.
And obviously we do have to talk about the climax, the big twist which I won’t spoil. But, if you haven’t seen the movie, you may find some of the sentences ahead uncomprehending and sunder. Some say that Nolan leaves the audience at an ambiguous point, and yes, you end up feeling or awe or fucked up, but I think the main intention is that Nolan must feel that audience must comprehend what was the nature of the movie. We see that Angier is the better showman and Borden is the better magician. The end actually turns the tables on it. The complexity of his thoughts, his so called desire, Borden sold the idea of an unimaginable apparatus of the trick to us, the audience and to Angier which just says he was always the better showman, not the magician. But Angier on the other hand, was always the better magician. There is a scene in which Michael Caine enhances the simple pigeon act into a modification which was worthy to be the climax of a show. Angier took a trick and stretched it into impossible heights. He just didn’t realise he was the better one.
There is a line ‘Are you looking closely ?’ that Bale uses constantly. We undoubtedly are. The climax is the prestige. It is an illusion for which we won’t find the secret because in quite honesty there were a lot of markers about the twist. We didn’t pay heed to them, because we never really were looking closely, we always wanted to be fooled.
The Prestige is grim and magical and a superb character study. My heart thumped with every footstep Angier took when he unveiled his great illusion and I found myself sitting amongst the audience, full of anticipation and clapped when the prestige materialized. That is what I always wanted a movie to be, a magical journey, a portal to another world, where we are perplexed, observing and more than that, amazed.
Rating : 9.4 / 10
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