The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige (2006)
Are You Watching Closely?
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring      : Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine
Genre        : Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Runtime     : 130 minutes
WI's rating : 8.7

Cutter: Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"."

 Told in a narrative that jumps between various points along its time line, playing out like a magic act itself, the story is that of two magicians on the rise in their careers. Two magicians are perfectly-cast with Hugh Jackman capturing the showy, slick, ambition-driven nature of his character Angier in contrast to Bale's technique-driven purist who may be well on his way to perfecting the craft, but lacks the 'Abracadabra' entertainment value. Robert and Alfred, who start a friendship that eventually turns into rivalry after Rupert's wife is killed in a magic trick that went wrong.
Cutter: You settled on a name yet?
Robert Angier: Yes I have. The Great Danton.
Cutter: Bit old-fashioned isn't it?
Robert Angier: No. It's sophisticated.
 Angier starts performing with the sobriquet "The Great Danton" with Cutter (Michael Caine) as his illusion engineer, while Borden with the stage name "The Professor" with Fellon as his engineer. Angier is an adept showman, but lacks the technical prowess. On the contrary, Borden is highly skillful, but lacks the taste for grandeur and showmanship. Each regards the other as his only obstacle (owing to their bitterly intertwined past) and this starts a series of events in which each tries to stymie the other by any means possible (sabotage, abduction, incrimination and even killings).

Awed by the apparent genuineness of Borden's version of "The Transported Man" and inveigled by Borden's deliberate misdirection, Angier travels miles and spends a fortune to approach an ingenious scientist named Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) in order to cajole him into building a machine for him (a machine that could help him outperform Borden). Nikola Tesla is an apostle of Alternating Current (and rightly thinks it to be superior to Direct Current), and is under immense pressure imparted by Thomas Edison (ruthless advocator of Direct Current) and his men, who are after Tesla. As Edison's men close in on him, Tesla runs out of time and hence funds for his research and is forced to oblige Angier, who is his very last client. Tesla flees the scene shortly after fulfilling his promise to Angier (not without leaving him a strong note of caution against the use of his invention), whose ever increasing skepticism in Tesla is placated by the efficacy of his masterful invention. Using Tesla's machine, Angier introduces his own version of "The Transported Man", which becomes an instant success, but in lieu of a terrible self-sacrifice (that Angier has to make every night while performing). As the story culminates, the viewer is startled with many revelations including the mental and physical torments that Borden's complex character undergoes owing to his total devotion towards his art.
Nikola Tesla: Exact science, Mr Angier, is not an exact science.

The supporting cast, meanwhile, adds its own set of stellar performances to the mix. Michael Caine's Cutter -- pitted between the two men as a mentor and, later, an accomplice -- conveys perfect notes of complicity and repulsion when his own trust is taken and betrayed; as Olivia Wenscombe, Scarlett Johansson transforms a would-be "trophy woman" into an active participant in the magicians' one-upmanship; and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla -- a scientist consumed by his own desire to discover hidden or yet-unearthed secrets -- embodies a potential future for the obsessed Angier. 

As the film's dialogue suggests, the true purpose of magic is not to trick or deceive, but rather to convince an audience that "something" can appear to be "something else" entirely. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the man responsible for the misdirection-filled Memento, this idea is elevated to new artistic heights -- even as it temporarily appears to be just another tool in a master storyteller's arsenal. Ultimately, this movie is all Nolan's show. Returning to more intimate filmmaking after helming Batman Begins, the director manages to make this complex story as easily understandable and effective as he made the outwardly straightforward comic book adaptation dense and sophisticated. But that may be the filmmaker's greatest trick: to make the simple ones look complicated and the complicated ones look simple. Because any truly great performance is almost as much showmanship as it is actual talent, and Nolan possesses both in spades -- which means that as brilliant as it is, The Prestige is not "just" a convincing trick perpetrated on a willing audience. Rather, it's a sign that more, bigger and better ones are sure to come.

Spoiler Alert
Alfred Borden has a twin, and "lives the act" even at home with his wife and child. He and the twin switch places often, with one portraying the other's assistant Fallon. This also explains why he seems to be two different people around his wife, who kills herself. The machine that Tesla builds for Angier turns out to be a cloning machine, which transports the clone in the process. So, each night Angier uses the machine onstage, he is actually cloning himself, with the copy falling through the trap door into a water tank and drowning. Angier uses this to frame Borden for his murder. Angier takes on the name Lord Caldlow and is granted custody of Borden's daughter after the trial, so apparently, he has suceeded in taking everything from Borden as he set out to do. At this point, Angier is still unaware that Borden has a twin. One of the Borden/Fallon twins is hanged for the crime, while the other returns to shoot Angier, setting fire to his dead body and the duplicating machine. As Angier is dying he states "You don't see where you are, do you?", and, as the fire burns, Borden/Fallon looks around and realizes that he is in the underground holding area for the water tanks with the dead Angier clones inside of them. We are then shown Borden/Fallon reuniting with his daughter who is with Cutter, (who knew that Borden was a twin the entire time). The movie ends with a quick shot of one of the dead clones in a water tank.

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