Rating: 3.5 of 5
The Prestige is an incredibly smart and intriguing film; very well made. It’s kind of like a magic trick because it tells you exactly what it’s going to do and then you’re still surprised and fascinated when it does it. Which is just masterful, to craft a film about magic that effects you like a magic trick. How cool is that? I’m surprised it hasn’t done better because it’s the sort of film people would want to see more than once and take their friends. Although, after I saw The Prestige I felt the way I felt after seeing Memento; which didn’t make much sense until I remembered that Christopher Nolan directed both films.
Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called “The Pledge”; the magician shows you something ordinary, but of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”; the magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary. Now if you’re looking for the secret… you won’t find it, that’s why there’s a third act called, “The Prestige”; this is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you’ve never seen before.
I knew going into it that the film was structured like a magic act. So in the beginning when Christian Bale is describing the three stages of a magic act I kept that in mind and was looking and listening for it. When Borden (Christian Bale) finds out that the journal he’d been reading was a plant I knew that was the The Turn and that there was more coming.
From the beginning I never believed that Angier (Hugh Jackman) died. I just wasn’t sure how. That was part of the magic act, they show you the seemingly ordinary death so you know it must not be as ordinary as it seems. And they also say early on that it’s easy to make things disappear. It’s making them reappear that’s interesting. So, again, killing Angier (making him disappear) was easy. Obviously, somehow, someway he will reappear. I was pretty sure that the gentleman visiting Borden when he was in jail trying to buy his secrets was connected to the still living Angier.
Fairly early on (maybe when he started the transported man trick) it occurred to me that Borden had a twin no one ever knew about. But even with that it never occurred to me until it was revealed that Fagan was the twin. Which totally ties into the line Cutter (Michael Caine) says, “Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it because you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know the secret… You want to be fooled.” It’s so true. Because even though I was pretty sure he had a twin early on it never occurred to me that they were switching places in their life and marriage and when Borden told Fagan to take his daughter to the zoo so he could see his mistress I wondered why she wasn’t going to be upset that her daddy ditched her and made Fagan take her. And we actually saw two men and two lives in the beginning and I didn’t realize it. cool.
What didn’t quite line up for me was Cutter. He found out late in the game that Angier was still alive. When did he know that he was doubling himself? When did he take Borden’s daughter from Angier and how? When did he conspire against Angier with Borden? When/Did he know that Borden had a twin? I just never could quite see his through line.
I wish I’d heard more of what Borden was saying when they took him at the end, about being sorry about Sarah and everything.
The realization of the one life of two men made a lot of the more seemingly normal elements of the film hard. Like when one cut off his fingers to match the other. And Sarah saying that some days he loved her and some days he didn’t. She knew. Somehow she knew there was two of them. That there were two of them and what it took to live one life and how that worked itself out in the movie in ways I hadn’t seen and what it meant, it’s significance in different scenes crawled around in the back of my head for hours after the film was over.
Sarah killing herself with the birds to parallel his killing of the birds in that one magic trick was so good and so poignant.
But the most haunting part of the film was The Prestige, Angier actually doubling himself. When I saw the hats I wasn’t sure I actually believed that they were doubles. I thought perhaps Tesla had planted them to fool him. It seemed too sci-fi in a film that was about the illusion of magic grounding us even more into the every day and the real world. So, I never let myself believe it. I kept wondering how, what was the trick? Until there were all those water tanks. Which was so haunting. He killed himself every night in the same way his wife was killed. He shot himself and it seemed to imply that the duplicate was left on the pad and the original was transported elsewhere (which would make sense, since that’s what Tesla was attempting in the first place). So the original was shot that first time and from that point on he was dead. The man standing was a shell, an illusion of himself, darker and twisted by life and what he’d done to himself, and by his obsession. All of that also crawled around in my head for hours after the film was over.