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The Prestige (2006)

by The Movie Diorama

The Prestige pledges to turn a traditional magic show into an electrifying production. Obsession. Fixation. Passion. The manifestation of addiction. A state to which one is unable to control themselves for the betterment of their practice. Destroying the souls surrounding them. Self-destruction. The proclivity for supremacy can turn an innocent competition into a bitter rivalry. The war of the currents, Tesla versus Edison. A historic contention paralleling Nolan’s fictional amateur magicians. Angier, The Great Danton. Borden, The Professor. Representing two social classes, the former aristocratic and the latter working class, as they mentally, emotionally and physically battle to become England’s most renowned magician. Likening their mental capacity to chess players, each move they produce offers dividends and immolation.

Borden invents the raw yet spectacular “The Transported Man”, which sees his own body enter one cupboard and exit another halfway across the stage within seconds. Angier, fixated on the secret behind the trick, utilises his showmanship to replicate Borden’s “magic” in “The New Transported Man”. But it’s not enough. His insufficient adequacy overwhelms. “Nobody cares about the man in the box”, he exclaims. And so, in typical Nolan fashion, The Prestige embarks on a merge with science-fiction, embracing “exact science” of the 1890s to produce the ultimate illusion. “The New Transported Man”.

Whilst the third act is slightly modified in comparison to Priest’s original novel, its thematic representation remains untouched. The idea that obsession controls the mind, hypnotising it into performing deadly actions with severe consequences. Borden and Angier’s escalating rivalry embodies that inhumanity effortlessly, with perspectives of neutrality exemplifying dualism. Neither magician is portrayed to be good or bad. Whilst you may solidify an antagonist in your own mental prison, both are culpable individuals for the rising severity between them. Metaphorically expressing class warfare, Nolan never incited limitations for either entity. Angier with all his fortunes remained equal throughout to Borden, whom always “got his hands dirty”. A strong illustration of practicality over methodology, supported by the exploration into the comparison between science and magic. Both, at the time, unexplainable.

However, the theme that provocatively entranced was the concept of “the art of self-sacrifice”. Devoting one’s life to an art form. An ambition. To tarnish marriages, to risk the lives of loved ones, to live for everything and nothing simultaneously. A reflective line mirroring selflessness and altruism. The two magicians assimilate this ideology in order to better each other. Borden, whose insistence on maintaining the secrecy of his greatest trick, damages his marriage to Sarah, allowing her to question their relationship. Olivia, stuck between Angier and Borden, acting as the human element to their inhumanity.

Magically, their turbulent lives are transformed into tragedies, substantially enhancing the characterisation of all involved. Equipped with the nature of deceit, Nolan demonstrates empathy as the severity of their rivalry increases. You feel for them as humans. And that, is the greatest illusion The Prestige offers. Humanity with the inhuman.

Fortunately, these thematic compositions are fully realised due to two enigmatic performances. Bale and Jackman, both garnering equal screen time, electrified the stages with a presence that demanded attention. Two extremely juxtaposing characters, yet interacting eloquently with a fierce inferno between them. Hall, Johansson and Caine attribute the much required human element to the story, with Bowie as Tesla providing stern wisdom.

The fragmentation of the narrative, which involves several diary entries, allows Nolan to execute his most intricate plot twist of all. The answer is always the simplest one, so to incorporate sleight of hand camera tricks to disguise the twist throughout, well, was genius. Pfister’s cinematography gorgeously capturing the Victorian environment with earthly colours and darkened tones. Julyan’s understated score and Bergen’s authentic costumes were also noteworthy. The only minor criticism hidden within this illusory tale, is with Smith’s editing within the third act. Occasionally frantic with scenes abruptly cut in order to resolve plot points, for example, the identity of Lord Caldlow. A major contrast to the nuanced storytelling that preceded the twisty conclusion.

The Prestige is very much its own magical trick. “The Pledge” illustrates a brooding rivalry between two aspirational magicians whilst embodying class warfare. “The Turn” takes an ordinary transportation trick and presents the extraordinary by merging science with magic. And “The Prestige” devotes all intentions to the tragic art of self-sacrifice. In the end, “you want to be fooled”. The best magic shows always do.