Obsession: it’s something we have all experienced in one form or another. It’s something that can work out splendidly for some, while taking its toll on others to drive them to insanity.
In Christopher Nolan’s newest picture, The Prestige, we see the story of two rival magicians taking turns battling it out to prove who the greatest magician is. These magicians, Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are driven by distinctly, as you may have guessed, obsession.
“Are you watching closely?” the film’s tagline asks. It’s very applicable to the film, for if you don’t watch closely you’ll be lost. However, even if you do play close attention, you still may walk away with the feeling of confusion.
Being a period film, Nolan’s adaptation of Christopher Priest’s award winning novel of the same name (published 1995) takes you back to the late 19th century. The film sets up the premise of magic with a voice over from Harry Cutter (Michael Caine), explaining the 3 steps of magic: (1) The Pledge, (2) The Turn, and finally (3) The Prestige, the step from which the story draws heavily from (hence, the title).
The film has two deeply intersecting storylines between the two magicians as they continually “get their hands dirty” to outdo one another. To start off, the present day of the film is shown, but time is constantly changed back and forth. While the works for the film since everything revolves around trickery, deception and lies, it can become slightly frustrating at times. A life changing event for Angier sets off the rivalry to become the best magician in Europe.
History is in fact present in this story. Looking to be historically accurate, Angier’s obsession to be the best leads him to Nikola Tesla, the real life Serb-American inventor, and his assistant Mr. Alley (Andy Serkis). Desperate to have the key to perform the ultimate magic trick, Angier looks to Tesla for a replica of the machine he believes Borden has.
Love is seemingly essential to most rivalries, which brings in Olivia Svenson (Scarlett Johansson). She turns out to be sort of a pawn for both magicians in their plots to destroy each other. Ultimately, with a relatively small role in the film, she turns out to be eye candy for the most part.
Twists and turns are what drive this film. Angier and Borden are continually throwing blows to each other, both physically and in terms of situation. There are points where a Keanu Reeves-like “whoa” is appropriate. There’s also a not-so-underlying theme of distrust in magicians.
Overall, the film holds its own and is well done by Nolan. However, it is impossible to overlook any confusion factors.
The flashbacks and reliability in deception can get overwhelming. In short, it’s apparent the film is trying to do too much for its own good, but perhaps that’s what happens when you look into the lives of magicians. And although the how is shown for multiple tricks, you’ll still get the feeling of “How’d they do that?”