Monday, October 6, 2008
The Prestige Review
The Prestige is a subtle science fiction nightmare, draped in a thrilling, dark, and well executed presentation. The movie is subtle throughout the majority of the film, providing deep characterizations and throwing a wrench into the viewers notions of what may or may not be going on with the characters.
On the surface this movie is about rival magicians who want to be the greatest of all time. They trade off blows by one upping each other in various ways. The showmanship is turned up a notch when they each dress up to sabotage each others performances, even causing injuries to spectators. Things take a very impressive character turn when one magician sends his assistant to work for his rival to steal his secrets, only to have her fall in love and throw a wrench into the situation.
Meanwhile, Nikola Tesla pops up in a beautiful introduction and amazing piece of film. The sequences involving one magicians arrival to the lair of Tesla is impressive just for its cinematography and photography. Tesla, played by music legend David Bowie, provides a sinister service and really pushes the bounds of science fiction in such a subtle way that most people failed to recognize this film as science fiction for it. Tesla introduces the Angier to his coils of electricity, Angier begs for the machine to further help his theatrics and after a lot of convincing he gets his wish. But it becomes a true sinister plot twist towards the end of the film, and is the knife in the back of the viewer who thinks he’s got it all figured out, but I won’t ruin the ending.
The director is none other than Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), and while he’s made other spectacular pieces of film, no one talks about how great this film really is on so many levels. It’s execution is really subtle, if you give it time. Seriously, you have to allow this to melt into your psyche as it can easily be written off due to length and lack of explosive action and typical script writing or twists and turns. There is also a dynamic of “identity” in this film that I won’t discuss or dare spoil the twists that are so carefully plotted.
Around the same time of the dvd release and theatrical run of The Prestige, I was working at a video store and every single customer asked me if this film was the same as The Illusionist. I’m here to say that they are two different films both in writing, conviction, storytelling and more importantly in genre. The Illusionist is more of a dramatic love story, while The Prestige is a very well played out science fiction excursion. The reason I say that is because of the wrench that Nolan throws into the traditional fictional account with Tesla and the “supernatural” that plays up the ending of this film. All I can say is that it involves clones, that’s even too much, but you’ll see why I call this a science fiction film if you watch the film for what it is, and not just the sum of its overall parts.
Why it’s scary: The reason why this film is scary is not so much because it is rival magicians battling for the number one spot, or the plot twists that involve the character Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). Borden’s split personality really comes into the spotlight in the “prestige” or the “reveal” which is foreshadowed throughout the whole film by Michael Caine. Some people might focus on this portion of the film and miss Angier & Tesla’s venture into the science fiction world, but we’ll stick with why it’s scary and not the plot structure. To consider psychology, a person so dedicated to his craft that he would risk life and limb is not scary. However, to delve into the supernatural and even risk one’s own soul is defiant and horror inducing if you believe in the idea of a soul and/or spirit. If you don’t believe that, then consider a rival that does and would sell his soul for the chance to “one up” you. On the flipside, consider a person so dedicated to his artform that he would risk his own identity and family for the sake of his secret. Borden’s character has a family and has a mistress, or does he? No one knows what’s going on, and even Michael Caine’s character seems clueless to the nature of the duality that is pictured in this film
To consider also the plight of Scarlett Johansson’s character, not knowing truth from fiction. Or consider Angier’s horror when his wife dies inside the chamber in the opening frames of this film. Consider also the technology of Tesla and the idea of “clones” and how the film really makes a case for both sides of the argument in today’s political landscape.
Another reason this movie is scary is the problem solving and desperation that the characters find themselves with at the end of the film. Obsession becomes the killer in this film, but moreover, you have to consider two major themes in regards to calling this a scary film: Is it worse to kill someone daily, even if they do not realize it, or is it worse to kill your identity and fool the world for the sake of your craft? Is it scarier to live a lie, or is it scarier that technology can be turned into selfish and self destructing mechanisms of horror? The Prestige is not really considered a scary film on its own, but consider the deeper meaning to the overall story, and the conclusion. Who really wins? One can argue this for a long time, and science fiction fans should be bursting at the seams with the continual underlying horror of the ego and superego that is split into multiples and killed by Angier.
I recommend this film. I recommend it for more than just the obvious pairing of Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. I recommend it for more than seeing Scarlett Johansson’s beautiful costumes, or Michael Caine’s brilliant portrayal of Cutter. The Prestige can easily be passed off as similar to The Illusionist, as illustrated by my stupid customers at the video store, but it has nothing to do with that. The Prestige is a masterwork, but not if you are a casual viewer of film. If you open your eyes to deeper elements that Nolan uses to tell this story, you will find a very scary portrait of the past but more importantly you will see a very horrific instance of our very present and future. The Prestige is one of the best films I've ever seen, and while you can argue till you’re blue in the face that it is not a “scary film” I beg to differ, since I have dissected this film on many occasions. Watch this again, and think hard about the parallels that this has to our current state of affairs. Granted, the director and writers may not get all this and maybe didn’t intend for their film to be considered “scary” however, as a scholar and a person that refuses to let my mind rot by mindless entertainment, I get those themes from this film, and you know what? That’s my right as a blogger and a consumer. I make of The Prestige something more than its intended purpose, and if that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Consider watching, owning and arguing this and Huxley’s Brave New World, or maybe just enjoy this film without the pretense that it is more than it is.
Whatever the case is, The Prestige is a good film and I say it’s a scary film, and fits right in line with science fiction, even if no one agrees with me.
This review is an example of my new “why it’s scary” reviews, and I will keep writing in this manner so that this blog is not just another horror movie blog that just gives basic overviews of horror and science fiction. I believe that horror and science fiction, although often times outlandish can still reflect truly frightening portraits of truth. It’s not just entertainment, although I will always argue that some movies are just that, but I want more out of what I love, it’s just how I’m wired. There are plenty of blogs with horror themes out there that do a great job of keeping it fun and light, but come on, do we really need another one of those? Keep it here for more in depth notes and reviews on film and more importantly “scary film”! Oh and yes, this movie was adapted from the book "The Prestige" and I've yet to read it, but will do so sooner than later.
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