The Prestige

 
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by:Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, David Bowie
Released: November 16, 2006
Grade: A

“The audience for a magic show knows that what they’re about to see is a trick.  If they actually thought a woman was going to be sawn in half, they would be very upset, and definitely not amused.  So they know it’s a trick but they also want to feel fooled.”  - director Christopher Nolan.

 That’s how I often feel when I go to see a much anticipated movie.  I want to be kept guessing.  I don’t what to know all the answers right away.  A perfect example is The Sixth Sense.  When you break it down, the answers were all right in front of you.  The director however, had you looking in the wrong direction.  So in a way, a good movie works in the same way as a good magic trick.

This concept is what brothers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan have explored in The Prestige.  Many people will walk out of this movie and won’t understand.  Others will fit the pieces of the puzzle together perfectly.  How can this be when we’re all watching the same movie?  As I hinted at earlier, it depends on where you’re looking and how closely you are concentrating.

The irony of the film is that it centres on two people trying to do exactly the same thing.  Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) are two young magicians looking to wow audiences.  Set in the early 20th Century, their shows played out in front of large audiences in some of London’s best theatres.  What began as a friendly rivalry has now become an obsession.  Borden has crafted an illusion that Angier cannot comprehend.  In a business shrouded in mystery, Angier will sacrifice everything to learn Borden’s secret.

Some will be rooting for the Christian Bale whilst others will be cheering for Hugh Jackman.  There’s no hero but no villain either.  The balance of power shifts back and forth with their friends and family caught in between.

As a critic, I have been asked by the studio “not to reveal too much about the deceptions at the heart of the film” so that “audiences can fully enjoy the unfolding of the story”.  Few films are as clever as The Prestige and so I am more than happy to comply with their request.  They deserve it as the talented filmmakers and you deserve it as the inquiring audience.

It can’t have been an easy project to put together but Christopher Nolan has done an outstanding job.  His trickery with the camera is reminiscent of his first major film, Memento.  Starring Guy Pearce, it was the tale of a man with severe amnesia and it featured in my top 10 list of 2001.  Nolan followed that up with the impressive Insomnia (starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams) and last year’s surprisingly first-rate Batman Begins.  He’s yet to put a foot wrong.

I’m not sure I understood the whole story (perhaps that is part of the “trick”) but I did come to the realisation that I’d been fooled.  My surprised reaction in the film’s third act was easily worth the admission price.  A second viewing is in order.