Friday, February 29, 2008

reVIEW (39)

When I first got wind of the film adaptation of The Prestige, it got me fired up and looking forward to it like nobody’s business. What can I say? It just sounded like one of those totally geeky films.
Consider: brought to us by Christopher Nolan (the man who’d not only given us Memento, he’d also just successfully re-launched the Batman franchise), it was a film based on a World Fantasy Award-winning novel about feuding magicians that was going to bring together Wolverine, Batman, Gollum, and the Goblin King, all on one screen. Oh, and Alfred too. And Scarlett Johannson.
Geekapalooza, here we come.

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is “The Great Danton,” and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), “The Professor,” two magicians caught in a bitter rivalry sparked by an on-stage tragedy early on in their careers. From that point on, misery is writ large in their lives, as their obsessions gradually consume their very humanity.
Based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Christopher Priest, The Prestige is a smart and imaginative period piece that cleverly intersects with real life by featuring Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) as a pivotal character in the proceedings. But the two magicians and the wizard aren’t the only ones warping the audience’s perception.
Like The Great Danton and The Professor, Nolan himself pulls a couple of tricks from his directorial hat. The beauty of The Prestige though, is that everything’s in plain sight, and still, that ending packs a wallop.
And it isn’t even like a Sixth Sense smack-you-on-the-upside-of-your-head plot flip. No, The Prestige’s climax is arguably a subtler construct.

To use the magician’s lexicon, the film has two ultimate “prestiges,” one prosaic and realistic, the other improbable and astounding. Both, if you (as they implore throughout the course of the film) “watch closely,” are readily revealed to the audience. Not underlined and explicated, mind you, but revealed.
Thus, neither comes as a real surprise at the end. Somehow though, in my case at least, the subconscious refused to fully consider the ramifications of these truths, because to do so would acknowledge the extreme and terrible lengths both men were willing to go to for the sake of their art.
Thus, they’re there, but not there. Because in spite of the light that Nolan shines on these truths, it’s really what’s going on in their shadows that will ultimately bother and disturb.

It’s a dark and tragic tale Nolan tells, and he tells it with that masterly skill he constantly displays in his films. It helps, of course, to have a great script (co-written with brother Jonathan), and a constant cinematographer like Wally Pfister in your corner (nominated for an Oscar for his work on The Prestige), shooting a cast like this one.*
There is a shadowy allure to The Prestige that makes it difficult to resist this cautionary tale of the steep and horrible price of revenge and jealousy and obsession.
If you haven’t seen this one, please do.
And keep in mind… watch closely…

* Pfister was also nominated for an Oscar for Nolan’s Batman Begins.

Parting shot: A review of Batman Begins can be found in the Archive.

(The Prestige OS courtesy of; novel cover art courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

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