The Prestige (2006)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

A mysterious story of two magicians whose intense rivalry leads them on a life-long battle for supremacy -- full of obsession, deceit and jealousy with dangerous and deadly consequences.

Sure, it's another audience-flattering, sexless, Christopher Nolan puzzle box about a brilliant, solitary white man or two — who through those very Ayn Randian characteristics, can see the world for what it really is...

But surely The Prestige is surely the best of his movies? It certainly lacks some of the self-serious portentousness and forced solemnity of his later work: was someone (or something) reigning it in here? The dialogue is passable as well, contra Oppenheimer's appallingly clumsy writing, and even Nolan's subliminal themes (such as the general public typically being should as incredulous, naive rubes) don't seem to rub the viewer the wrong way to quite the same degree as in his other work.

To its credit, The Prestige is also a giant, if somewhat unsubtle, metaphor about cinema and those engaged in making movies, all sandwiched in between a homage to the early illusionist/magician/filmmaker Georges Méliès and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It has the former's sense of Heideggerian disenchantment by way of religion making way for science: Angier isn't artistically teleported in any kind of magical method, but rather he 'simply' scientifically duplicated (and creates a kind of toxic waste product as well). And from Robert Louis Stevenson's gothic tale, The Prestige plausibly inherits both the doubling motif and the homosexual undertones of male obsession and rivalry. I just wish Nolan would meet his audience halfway (for once) and not explain his trick multiple times in the last five minutes. Didn't The Sixth Sense teach us that you just need to plant the seeds, even at the multiplex?


Near the beginning of The Prestige, in a scene that doesn’t appear in the novel, a small boy is upset by a magic act that involves a disappearing canary. [C]an the boy somehow have perceived the truth? [P]erhaps the boy is a Borden in potentia, a magician’s magician to be. Or is he, more simply, one step ahead of Freud? Does he know, as perhaps all children do, that the most famous vanishing trick of all doesn’t really work as a game or a comfort, because fort is fort and da is da, and the two realms can’t be brought together? Even if the bird doesn’t die, even if your mother always comes back, the disappearance is real and can’t be undone.

Michael Wood (London Review of Books)