“Are you watching closely?”
Audiences don’t want to see the entire trick. You don’t walk into a theater and want to know everything. You walk in wanting to fooled into thinking what you just saw was real.
The Prestige isn’t just a mindfuck of the tallest order. It’s a wonderfully thought out trick.
A movie’s staying power in the land of make believe rests on its ability to trick you every single time you watch it. It has been ten years since Christopher Nolan dazzled us with The Prestige, his girlfriend in between the two wives, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. After watching it this afternoon, I can tell you it’s his greatest trick as a co-writer and filmmaker.
What the hell does that mean exactly? Every living person with a heartbeat knows that The Dark Knight, powered by an unforgettable Heath Ledger and a script that changed the modern blockbuster’s limits, stands as his finest achievement. I have no problem with that. TDK is in my top ten of all time films, but that is due in large part to Ledger’s daredevil portrayal of The Joker(suck it hard, Jack, Jared, and Caesar). The Prestige is Nolan’s greatest trick. When you are done watching it and Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” plays in front of a burning theater, you will be stunned.
That is because The Prestige dared to go where few films had gone before. It was billed as the ultimate showdown between cinema’s biggest heroes. Christian Bale was hot off Batman Begins and Hugh Jackman was Wolverine. The film took two movie stars and gave them their best roles to date. The story was original and tackled the idea of magic. The costs behind it. Every magic trick costs something, and it all comes down to which magician is willing to gamble the most.
The film followed a pair of aspiring magicians, each with a chip on their shoulder and certain skill. Alfred Borden(Bale) was the one who could create real magic and wanted to do it from scratch. Robert Angier(Jackman) was the master showman who envied Borden’s abracadabra abilities. For the length of the film, the audience watched them battle tooth and nail for the highest form of prestige. Or as Angier puts it eloquently near the end, “to get that look on their faces.” They sabotaged each other’s work, and risked everything to be the best, even if they didn’t exactly know what being the best truly meant.
In the end, one magician puts lives in danger and goes too far in striving to be the best. Imagine if a certain skill required that? What if athletes had to risk the lives of others to be great at something? What if there was more than the eye could handle going on behind the curtain of a movie theater? Nolan gets into bed with all of that noise and creates a masterpiece. I don’t care if you like magic or not. This film will make you wonder.
Bale is magnificent. Jackman is even better. They are showboating roles at first glance, but in the end so much more. Michael Caine(a Nolan everyday player) and Scarlett Johansson have key roles. The late David Bowie has a small part. Nolan takes great actors and makes them better. He takes pretty faces and turns them inside out.
The greatest trick a director can ever tell is convincing you what you are watching is real. Nolan takes the job title with the smallest amount of plausibility, a magician, and makes you believe what they are doing has a fair dose of reality to it.
Think about the idea behind a trick, as stated in the film by Caine’s character.
The Pledge: Taking something ordinary, like well known actors, and presenting them to the audience.
The Turn: Making those actors disappear suddenly.
The Prestige: Making them reappear as something else entirely in the end.
Christopher Nolan took Batman and Wolverine, made them into blood hungry magicians, and that is his greatest trick as a filmmaker. It’s not finding a lost Ledger and turning him loose on a classic role or putting a Best Picture nominee out in the middle of summer. Ten years ago, Nolan gave the audiences his best trick. Before he dazzled us with Inception, he gave us The Prestige.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you stop what you are doing, seek it out, and take it in. When you are done, turn off the television and just sit there. Let it sink in.