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The Torturous Turns of The Prestige

Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier / The Great Danton / Lord Caldlow. Christian Bale as Alfred Borden / The Professor / Bernard Fallon. Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe. Piper Perabo as Julia McCullough. Michael Caine as John Cutter. David Bowie as Nikola Tesla.

The Prestige is a hard movie to love. It’s an unforgiving story, filled with all of the complexity and tragedy we hope to leave behind when we escape to the theater. Christopher Nolan, however, seems to love nothing more than to make us squirm, and he’s done a frighteningly beautiful job of it by bringing Christopher Priest’s haunting novel to the screen.

The film is set Victorian England, and is driven by the growing rivalry of two illusionists compellingly played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. They are brought together by a love of magic and stagecraft, but are quickly set at odds by pride, jealousy, and tragedy. The pair work to sabotage each other’s success in turn, and as their obsessions grow, so do the consequences.

The supporting cast — both known and unknown — is superb, but David Bowie’s understated portrayal of Nikola Tesla was a particular delight, and his possible involvement in the illusionist’s acts serves to further confuse the classification of this twisted cautionary tale.

Like Mr. Nolan’s earlier masterwork Memento, The Prestige is a hard mental game that virtually requires a second viewing. Our small group all loved the film, but argued about the ending. I initially wasn’t happy with it, but I’ve since come around. You are left with precious few easy answers, and you may even have doubts about what you think you saw days after seeing the Prestige. Even while watching the film, should you think you’ve worked out a twist or two in advance, just remember that the illusionist’s greatest tool is misdirection.

Written by in October of 2006. Last edited May 2015.

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Comments

  • Faisal - December 21st, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Fantastic site