A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Prestige

December 29, 2010

The Prestige

This movie starts right out of the gate being clever. It dives right into the fantasy of the movie world without any of that mumbo-jumbo of having opening credits. It just has a title card – two words in bold type hovering over a field filled with top hats – the first hint in a long series of clever slight of hand that slowly reveals the secret behind this movie. Even without opening credits however this movie absolutely screams Christopher Nolan. It plays with time, jumping forward and back through the story in a very Chris Nolan way (familiar to anybody who’s seen Memento of the more recent Inception.) It stars some of his favorite actors in Christian Bale and Michael Caine. It has a fun mystery to it and a cool reveal at the end of the movie.

There are several tricks Nolan uses in the telling of this tale. I mentioned how he bounces back and forth in time. The plot revolves around a pair of rival magicians and their constant bitter and nasty attempts to destroy each other’s careers and lives. They discover much about how their lives played out by reading each other’s diaries. So we get narration, flash backs, flashes even further back, jumps forward… just keeping track of it all takes a lot of concentration. Just editing this together into a film that makes sense to the viewer must have been a herculean task. What’s even more astonishing though, is that all this cleverness is just misdirection. It’s the magician waving a handkerchief about while the real trick goes on in his other hand. Nolan wants you concentrating on all the plot threads, he wants you concentrating hard trying to figure out just what the actual sequence of events is so that he can cleverly work the real magic of the film right out in the open without you seeing it.

This movie is part mystery, part tragedy, part dark fantasy and all magic. It’s an homage to the art of magic, with detailed reveals that explain how some of the tricks work, but also a warning about the danger of becoming obsessed with that world. There’s an underlying theme that in order to become a truly great magician one has to be willing to make sacrifices. One of the rivals – Alfred Borden aka The Professor – understands this from the very start. His rival, Robert Angier, never seems to grasp it until near the end of the film. He wants to believe that great magic is possible even when his wife, early in his career, is tragically killed onstage while attempting an underwater escape. He has a great grasp of the necessary theatricality necessary but not of the sacrifice. Magic, this movie says to us, is a gruesome and brutal art form based on deception. The two lead characters are men consumed and destroyed by this constant deception.

There are layers upon layers to this film, with deep motivations for the characters that are not entirely clear in some cases until quite late in the movie. It must have been a wonderful pleasure for the actors to dig into these characters and bring them to life. Hugh Jackman plays the pathetic Angier, who is destroyed by his wife’s death and commits all of his efforts from that point on to the destruction of the man he holds responsible. Borden is played by Christian Bale, who in many ways has the hardest job here since his character is so hard to understand. Michael Caine is their mentor in the ways of magic and an inventor of clever contraptions to deceive the audience. Throw in a cameo by David Bowie as Nikola Tessla, the real life eccentric genius and inventor and a wonderful performance by Scarlett Johansson as Angier’s attractive assistant and you have probably one of the best casts you could possibly assemble. It’s their job to sell this warped, sad, tragic world of deception and betrayal.

I had this film spoiled for me before I watched it. I truly wish that I had not. It would have been so much more fun if I hadn’t known the trick behind it. But as you know if you’re a fan of Penn and Teller the best magic tricks are the ones that are still fascinating and fun to watch even when you know how they are done. Perhaps especially then because you can appreciate all the more the craft of the magician. Chistopher Nolan is a wonderful master of his craft, and it’s a joy to watch him work, so even with the ending spoiled for me in advance I completely loved this movie.

December 29, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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