PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Oct. 21, 2006
Drama, Thriller and Adaptation
Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, David Bowie, Scarlett Johansson
Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Novel by Christopher Priest
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
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By Elliott Ryan
At its heart, The Prestige is a movie about revenge. While the magic tricks employed by the dueling illusionists in the film are phony, the movie realistically portrays the dangers of descending into the darkness caused by an obsessive appetite for vengeance. The more a person travels down that road of revenge, the harder it becomes to put on the brakes.
The plot is complicated, and the way it is told doesn’t make it easier to understand. Director Christopher Nolan has a history of playing around with story chronology in his movies. His film Memento, a movie also about revenge told completely in reverse, is the best example of his penchant for playing around with timelines. In The Prestige, he employs flashbacks and flash-forwards, and I was mixed up about the chronology for the first thirty minutes. The first line at the start of the movie is one of the illusionists saying, “Watch closely,” so I can’t say I wasn’t warned. If you find yourself having difficulty following the story early on, your perseverance will be rewarded if you hang with it.
The film tells about a feud between an American illusionist named Robert Angier, played by Hugh Jackman, and a British illusionist named Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale. They start out as friends learning the tricks of their trade together. But then a tragedy happens that causes them to become enemies. They each spend the rest of the movie trying to become London’s greatest illusionist. One is better than the other at actually coming up with and performing illusions. But the other is actually a better performer with a more confident stage presence.
The two illusionists both perfect their own slightly different versions of a trick called “The Transported Man.” They each attempt to sabotage the other’s act. While both of them may legitimately be interested in being the best illusionist, it quickly becomes obvious that their overriding motivation is vengeance. One tragedy becomes a string of tragedies as the two men attempt to best each other.
The cast also features Scarlett Johansson as assistant to first one and then the other illusionist. Although she develops feelings for both men, she is ultimately just a pawn in the game between the two dueling illusionists. Michael Caine stars as Cutter who invents contraptions for illusionists to use in their shows. David Bowie stars as Nikola Tesla, a real-life inventor who adds a slight air of realism to an element of the plot that seemed more like something from a sci-fi fantasy film.
The film is rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. It certainly isn’t a family film. In addition to the various acts of vengeance, adultery is also implied. But once the intricacies of the plot unwind, it seems maybe there wasn’t any adultery going on after all. Or maybe there was. There will be some things about this movie that you might not be completely sure about as the credits roll. But perhaps that will make it more enjoyable.
We know from Scripture that, like all sins, an obsessive desire for revenge inevitably leads to death. In addition to being an enjoyable film that makes you think, The Prestige is an excellent portrayal of this biblical truth.
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