I could start off by making comparisons between this movie and The Illusionist, but really the only common element here is the theme of magic. While The Illusionist is more of a love story, The Prestige is more of a competition between two men for glory and the prestige of being the best magician in the world.
Set in 1890's England, the movie opens with a narration of Cutter (Michael Caine) explaining the three parts of a magic trick: The Pledge, where the magician makes a promise to the audience to do something, The Turn, where the magician turns from the audience and performs acts on The Pledge, and finally The Prestige, where the magician makes good on the Pledge and the stunned audience erupts into thunderous applause.
So here comes my prayer that belief be suspended to a high degree. While I loved this film and was surprised by the ending, upon reviewing the film to discover where I had missed things, I also allowed my mind to overanalyze the plot and then began to see where things couldn't, wouldn't, or shouldn't have happened the way they did in the movie. That being said, walk in to the film just like you would any other magic performance, knowing that you are going to be fooled, but not knowing how you're going to be fooled.
The piece centers around two magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) who were once colleagues and friends, but are now bitter enemies after a magic trick that claimed the life of Angier's wife (Piper Perabo) went horribly wrong due to Borden making a secret last minute change in the act. Naturally, Angier becomes bent on dealing out vengeance on Borden, but his obsession progresses to a higher degree when Angier discovers that Borden is making a name for himself in the local theater circuit as a magician, and seems to have an idyllic family life. At one of Bordens performances, Angier sneaks in and spoils one of his tricks, and soon Angier starts his own performance troupe. An intense rivalry ensues between the two, both onstage and off, progressing to a treacherous level so much so that it culminates into the murder of one by another.
The movie is shown in a flashback style, so we find out early on that Borden has killed Angier and are taken back to see the events that led up to where the film opens. While in prison, Borden reads Angier's diary to discover how his adversary got the best of him, even in death.
Angier is a good magician, but so is Borden. They are both vying for the spot of being the best magician in England. Although many consider Angier (who now performs as The Great Danton), the best performer ever seen, he takes no gratification in his triumph, as there is one trick that Borden performs that he is unable to duplicate; Borden's 'The Transported Man' -- where he enters a door on one side of the stage, and instantaneously exits though another on the other side. Dissatisfied with Cutter's overly simplified explanation of how Borden does it, Angier travels halfway around the earth to Colorado to enlist the help of Nikola Tesla (played very well by David Bowie) to decipher and improve upon Borden's masterpiece.
Here is where things get interesting. We begin to delve into the world of electricity, teleportation, and other wonders of electricity. Tesla, who is in Colorado developing his new and cutting edge theories and technology on electricity and magnetism, is commissioned by Angier to create a piece that will allow him to perform the greatest illusion there is. However, Angier isnt the only one interested in the Croatians genius work. Lurking in the background is Thomas Edisons henchmen, sent to spy upon, and eventually sabotage Tesla's work. Fortunately, Tesla completes his work for Angier and he takes it back to Europe where he uses it to as the climax of his already sold out show, limited to 100 runs. Now with his own version of Borden's signature trick, Angier beings to overtake Borden's popularity and is now involved with his assistant Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), whom he predictably uses to gain Borden's confidence in order to steal his secrets. Silently but intently watching every dramatic event unfold is Borden's staunch assistant Fallon who to seems to have an unusual closeness and interest in his employer's family life.
I think that is as far as I should go into the plot, as I risk revealing too much information and giving away a good, albeit slightly incredulous ending (again, a healthy suspension of disbelief is required). However, you'll find that there are underlying parallel stories of competition between all characters and principles in the film. The most prominent is the "Current War" between Tesla and Edison, both of whom are considered magicians in their own electric realm. The contest between the two electricians subtly reflects the enmity between Borden and Angier -- both in profession and psyche. A contention coexists between the two women in the film. Olivia and Sarah Borden (Rebecca Hall) are selfishly manipulated by both conjurers; one is being asked to divide her loyalties to her man, and the other forced to question if loyalty of her man to her is divided. The women battle both between and within themselves, both struggling to attain a prestige own their own.
In the end, you'll find that not only have been fooled, but each character in the film has been unexpectedly deceived or is the unexpected deceiver. The film seems like it "ends" several times and that you've guessed or seen the outcome, but you won't. Even the final scene will have you rewinding and thinking on it after the credits roll. You may discover yourself switching loyalties among characters as the roles of villain and victim change form, disappear, and then reappear like a ball-under-the-shell trick.
I found this film to be well written and fairly well executed, but I am forced to admit that the final revelation was startling at first, but won't stand up to scrutiny and leave you disillusioned. This is where The Prestige seems to fail to live up to its pledge and to some will be a let down given the rest of the film's enchantment. While director Christopher Nolan is no Houdini in this story of ambition, retribution, and glory, both real and representative, he manages to assemble a consuming and unusual movie that is worthy of your attention.
Czarina's First Date Rating: I rate this movie B; which means if I saw it on a first date I would*:
* Czarina does not give blow jobs on the first date... (often).
Czarina's Captious Compliment of Caustic Comment: Hugh Jackman can wave his magic wand on me anytime.
All Hail The Prestigious Czarina
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