The Prestige is a film about magicians and their illusions, but it is also an illusion itself.
In the film and in magic, we are first shown the Pledge; a seemingly ordinary scenario that we will assume is probably not so ordinary. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) two rival magicians who see their friendship turn into a rivalry after an ill-fated illusion involving Angier’s wife. Each becomes obsessed with discovering the other’s secrets and becoming the greater magician. Next comes the Turn; the magician takes the ordinary thing and turns it into something you would never expect. Alfred performs “the Transported Man” trick and sends Rupert on a desperate quest to uncover the illusion and starts a deadly game of cat-and-mouse which soon involve the double-crossing assistant Olive (Scarlett Johansson) and Rupert’s manager Cutter (Michael Caine). The final part of the illusion, the Prestige, sends the audience’s minds into a flurry with twists and turns you never expected. I try hard not to concentrate too much on twists in a movie so I can more fully enjoy the experience, but I found myself burning for answers throughout, getting a few along the way then asking some more.
Like a good magician, director Christopher Nolan lures us in with intrigue and presentation, shows us something we didn’t expect, and then throws us into a spin. There are echoes of his previous works in The Prestige that are evident throughout the film, like Memento‘s non-linear storytelling and ambiguity, and the darkness of Batman Begins. Aside from being simply an enjoyable film to be completely immersed in, The Prestige is great to look at with its breathtaking scenery and costumes. The thing that stands out the most to me is the acting. Without Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in their top form, this film would have fallen short of its potential; something that happens all too often in movies. Michael Caine is always a delight to watch, while Scarlett Johansson’s performance seemed uninspired and unoriginal, leading me to think that she seems to be a little overrated and overexposed.
Above all, The Prestige is definitely one of the best films of the year. It could require multiple viewings in order to answer all your questions, but the beauty of the magic trick is not the illusion itself but the fact that we will never really know how the magician did it. You think you know what’s going on, but in the end you will find that you never really knew. Rarely do good acting, beautiful photography, and intelligent writing come together to form a film worth watching.