Overview: Tragedy and a competitive desire ignites a chain of deception between a brilliant illusionist and a captivating performer whose rivalry wavers on the edge of obsession. Touchstone Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures. 2007. Rated PG-13. 130 Minutes.
Every Magic Trick Consists of Three Parts: There is a pattern to every illusion, a guiding structure. 1) A Pledge where we are presented with the ordinary. 2) The Turn where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. 3) The Prestige where we are brought full circle. There’s a secret here, a curiosity. But do we really want to know or would we prefer to be fooled? Watch closely…
The Pledge: From its opening moments we are fully uprooted into the film’s Victorian era stage. Director Christopher Nolan encapsulates this snapshot of time through muted tones and hushed illumination. The step into this historical portrait is comfortable, feels whole and normal because through lighting and shot composition we are given the impression of live theater. We are no longer simply viewers. We are immersed, given a front row seat. Expansive camera sweeps and awe-inspiring panoramic views are absent. Instead, the sight-lines of the cast take precedence. By maintaining the camera perspective at eye level, the position of the illusionist and performer holds power over the audience. Actively speculating and skeptical minds are rendered vulnerable to full manipulation – on both sides of the screen. The subtle camera cautions against the consuming infatuation, total sacrifice, and merciless deceit that shapes the intent of our entertainers.
The Turn: In the beginning, two companions, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), collaborate in magical feats that astound and perplex their shared admirers. When the finale of their show ends tragically, ties are severed, trust is shattered, and retribution is bred. What manifests is a uniquely double-edged and mystical revenge tale. These dueling mystics are colored by varying methodology. Borden is systematic and disciplined, a calculated intellect that personifies the very being of his new persona, the Professor. Countering his rival, Angier seethes within the inner madness fed by his longing for vendetta, indicative in his new persona – The Great Danton. As each duelist advances on the other, acts evolve aggressively from ordinary to extraordinary all the while transforming the innermost ego and clouding the divisions of who is just and who is corrupt. It comes at a cost, however. By having the primary focus be the vindictive fervor of the rivals, an emotional disconnect is created. The few moments when we are able to relate rely on the framing of the supporting characters. Even so, the brief interactions amongst a strong supporting cast do not trigger any emotional tie nor reaction.
The Prestige: Without the prestige, the act abruptly comes to a standstill; an expectation lingers in the air and closure is not met. Viewers who ache for more (beyond the arcing and non-linear narrative) will be more than satisfied. Without being brazenly noticeable, technological innovation is integrated, tightly knotting the progression of the illusionists to a transformative historical period. Ultimately, we are enticed to ponder the interlacing filaments of science and magic and to question all that we see.… Are you watching closely?