“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.” These words uttered by Michael Caine at the beginning of “The Prestige” cannot even begin to unravel the twisting plot threads, or to clear the mysterious fog that the Nolan brothers have created in their new cinematic adventure.
Set in London at the turn of the 20th century, the film follows the lives of two magicians, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman). While the two are working together, Angier accuses Borden of killing his wife by causing her to drown during an escape trick. From then on, Angier is plagued by an insatiable desire to get the best of Borden, at first by simply taking revenge upon his wife, but eventually by learning the secret to Borden’s great illusion, the Transported Man. The intense competition that ensues, along its intricately woven subplots, culminate in a scene that is charged with shocking realization, yet enticing and mysterious enough to keep you thinking.
Like the psychological thriller film “Memento,” this film was written by both Christopher Nolan, who directed the film, and his brother Jonathan. And the plot that they spin in “The Prestige” is equally as intriguing and shocking as is “Memento”‘s. But it is not simply the storyline that makes this film one that will stay with you long after you walk out of the theatre, but rather the manner in which it is revealed. In signature Nolan fashion, many sequences of shots in the film are out of chronological order, leaving the viewer to piece them together as he or she watches. And the film is filled with images, motifs and tiny, almost unnoticeable moments that advance the atmosphere of the film in an indescribable and amazing way.
Without question, this is a film about human nature and the juxtaposition and duality of human life: our introverted ways and thoughts and the facades which we present to the outside world. It is a commentary on reality, illusion, and wicked jealousy. As Angier says in the film, “No one cares about the man in the box, the man who disappears.” The story also draws upon our understanding of the primal competitive desire to succeed and to be the best, which all humans share.
So, what makes this film great is not only the well-crafted plotline and fittingly fantastical ambiance and cinematography, but rather the way that the Nolan brothers present the pieces of the puzzle to the viewer. They have succeeded in showing without telling and, beyond this, only showing just enough so that the viewer is left to fill in the missing pieces of the film, in a manner perfectly fitting to a film about illusionists. This makes for a superbly engrossing experience, that is not to be missed.
Rosnick is a member of the class of 2009.