Thursday, July 18, 2013

Films Watched 2013: #6

The Prestige (2006)

'Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called The Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course it probably isn't. The second act is called The Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But...making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call The Prestige.'

Christopher Nolan's period drama about rival magicians may have it's implausible moments but only professional nitpickers could argue with the overall film, an engrossing, complex fable, a mysterious magic trick itself, playing with identity and obsession in artfully pleasurable ways. The core of the film is the three-part nature of a magic trick. The pledge. The turn. The prestige. Something ordinary does something extraordinary - it disappears - then reappears again. Except it never really went anywhere. That's the trick, and we know it. But we want it to be real. We want to be fooled. The trick, as it were, is to maintain the mystery, the magic, the giddy sense of innocent possibility. In Victorian London Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are apprentice magicians when a tragic accident kills Aungier's wife. He blames Borden and they become enemies, obsessively following each other's careers, sabotaging each other. When Alfred performs a successful trick, The Transported Man, Robert becomes obsessed with finding the secret, ultimately pushing both men towards self-destruction and tragedy. The narrative complexity of plot within plot (within plot) takes some attention at first not to lose where you are, when you are, but your mind soon acclimatises to the pleasure of watching a film that expects you to keep up, that respects your intelligence. Bale is grimly mesmerising as Borden and Jackman has never been better. There's fine support to from Michael Caine as John Cutter, the stage engineer and David Bowie as electricity guru Nikola Tesla. The mystery of Christopher Nolan isn't how he manages to make intelligent blockbusters, but why he's almost the only one.

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