Are You Watching Closely? ‘The Prestige’ a Hit

November 24, 2006

The latest offering from meticulous filmmaker Christopher Nolan, “The Prestige” is a movie that’ll teach you a thing or two about performing magic tricks, put you in the middle of late-19th-century London, and have you on the edge of your seat, all at the same time.

The story of two rival magicians and their obsession with the perfect magic trick, the film transports you to an era when magicians and performers were at their peak and audiences paid good money to watch dangerous magic tricks such as “the lady in the water tank” or “the transported man.”

What does it take to perform the perfect magic trick? What resources do the magicians and their ingénieurs (inventors of magic props) have at their disposal? What sacrifices are they willing to make? Along this train of thought, Nolan probes the unconscious by telling us that we want to be fooled, that we’re not looking close enough.

Yet, in the end, we are pleasantly entertained – at whatever cost for the performers, that is. The idea is that the audience is cruel, living vicariously through others and watching pain and misery from a safe distance.

The title of the film is excellently explained in the movie trailer (though perhaps the best way to see a movie is to know nothing about it beforehand). According to the film, “the prestige” is the third act of any magic trick, when what disappears is brought back again – what was locked up is finally freed. It’s what transpires immediately after the instant when we’re holding our breath to see what happens.

Thanks to Nolan, the execution of the story is impeccable, and a grand “prestige” conclusion awaits the audience. The story is actually split into the three acts that make up a magic trick – according to the film, “the pledge,” when the magician shows you something ordinary that probably isn’t; “the turn,” when the magician makes the ordinary object do something extraordinary; and “the prestige” – so you could very well establish a parallel between a magician’s trick and Nolan’s film.

Anyone familiar with this director’s work knows what to expect: nonlinear storyline, psychologically profound characters and excellent production design. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman give excellent performances, though personally I’m getting a bit tired of seeing Jackman’s face in every other movie (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Fountain,” etc.).

Apparently, Nolan is infatuated with Bale, Michael Caine (who is as brilliant as always) and comic books. This film and his previous one (“Batman Begins”) are both comic book adaptations starring the two actors.

It’s not easy to translate the intricate plots, twists and turns that make up a comic. Thankfully, this happens to be right up Nolan’s alley.

 

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