The Prestige, by Christopher Nolan

A few years ago, I had a folder containing two things: in one side descriptions and instructions on magic tricks, generally sleight of hand card tricks; in the other, printouts of articles written about and more often authored by Nicola Tesla. They were my two biggest obsessions of the early 2000s, I’d say.

Imagine my excitement to hear of a movie that literally revolved around these two concepts! Unfortunately, it was then approaching five years later, and my obsessions had moved on. I would like to be able to say that I am always a little ahead of my time, but modestly and, moreover, common sense prevents me.

In any case, Christopher Nolan is my favourite “new director”, and his previous movies that I’ve seen (Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins) I’ve found, respectively: amazing; interesting; and, the perfect superhero movie. As it happens, 2006 was no good for me actually getting the time to see or read about movies; that particular obsession has been replaced, and by the time I got around to seeing The Prestige, I had actually forgotten who made it. Foolish me.

Similar to Memento in that a second viewing will reveal a wealth of information missed in the first sitting, the story of The Prestige (based on a novel) remains simple despite layers of narrative that could have overwhelmed it. As a character study, it fits my idea of a perfect story of revenge by showing that opposites can be very similar indeed. The less said about the story, though, the better; a general rule that film reviewers should more often abide by.

Christian Bale and Michael Caine (of course) both act wonderfully, and Scarlett Johanssen (of course) provides relief for sore eyes. Hugh Jackman, I’m afraid, was competent but didn’t develop enough of this own character in the role. He’s often just “Hugh Jackman” to me in many of the movies I see him in; frankly, he should stick to theatre and musical work, where I hear he excels.

The highlight of the visual design for me was the backstage peek at the intricate mechanical designs of the magic tricks. There’s a certain nostalgia I have (and I don’t know where it can from) for purely mechanical design; before relays, electronics, or plastic, I love the idea of hand-crafted gadgets with springs, levers, gears, and linkages with shiny brass finishes. Elegant mechanical design embodied by delicate and robust construction.

The film is full of details that I missed the first time. I can’t wait to see it again.