An illusion, an act of prestidigitation…

So I went to see The Prestige last night, having waited nearly a week after it opened because I am a good and dutiful boyfriend and my significant other could not see it with me until now. I thought the movie was, as they say, awesome. But I might have approached it in a less than objective manner. A confession: I really like magic. While I am fascinated by the Chris Angel/David Blaine types of today, my real fondness is for the tuxedo-wearing, rabbit-from-a-top-hat illusionists of the golden age. Houdini, Carter, Thurston, etc. I can’t say precisely what it is about this niche of storytelling that captivates me, but I suppose it has something to do with the childish sense of wonder the audience gets from the best performers.

As an afficianado of turn-of-the-century magician fiction (an admittedly tiny sub-genre) I read The Prestige some time ago. Making comparisons between a film and its source book is, in my opinion, less productive than masturbation so I will refrain from doing so in public. But I think having read the book may have primed me for the film in a unique way. I don’t think its giving anything away to say that the there is a “twist” in the film. Christopher Nolan has gone out of his way to structure the film as his own personal magic trick, and as such there has to a moment of reveal that goes against audience expectations. Although the plot structure varies from the novel, having read it, I had a pretty good idea what the titular Prestige was going to be. This freed me up to admire the craftmanship of how Nolan gets us there. Knowing the ending (or at least having a good idea of its basics), I could see how every line of dialogue that sets it up echoes the deneoumont.

A friend who saw it with me didn’t like it at all. He felt that the twist was too obvious. He could see the end coming a mile away and was therefore disappointed when it turned out to be exactly what he thought it was. While I agree that the ending is somewhat telegraphed, I think it was the only way to approach the dualistic, twisting narrative and still play fair with the audience. Perhaps the director could have struck a finer balance between giving the audience enough information to figure things out and misdirecting their attention for a shocking finale. Still, I feel there were enough twists in the rivalry between these two men and the lengths that they will go to in order to top one another to play as a character study in obsession and rivalry. I also liked the structural tricks Nolan uses. The non-linear narrative comes across in a series of nested flashbacks that slowly reveal the events in the frame tale before pushing forward to the conclusion. In addition to being a sucker for magic, I love complicated narratives. All in all, The Prestige is an enjoyable film and I can think of worse ways to spend ten bucks.

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