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The Prestige (2006)


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I REALLY hope that people don't pass on this because it's just "ANOTHER magic movie." I've seen The Illusionist and read the novel of The Prestige and can say that the similarities stop there.

While The Illusionist was a nice period piece with some good performances, The Prestige has the material in it--with a streamlined screenplay and the direction of Nolan-- to make a film that will knock people out.

It is still my most anticipated film of the year.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I haven't any familiarity with The Prestige's source material, but cast is amazing (Bale, Jackman, Johanssen, Caine) and Christopher Nolan earned my undying respect with Batman Begins. This has the makings to be one of the year's best movies.

-"I... drink... your... milkshake! I drink it up!"

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  • 4 weeks later...

Since it is now opening day in this website's home time zone ...

The Prestige feels like the movie that Chris Nolan's critics said Memento was -- all gimmick, no heart. There are bits of humanity here and there, but you're never entirely sure how much of it is for real and how much of it is just part of the set-up. (An early remark by one character, regarding how the best magicians fake their entire public lives as a form of misdirection to hide the tricks they use on stage, puts you on your guard.) Plus, it doesn't help that the story seems to begin in at least three timelines at once; you spend so much time trying to get up to speed, that the film never quite finds the momentum it needs once you get there.

There are some fantastic ideas in this film, and the third act includes one whopper of a plot device that I really wish they could have explored further, if only the movie didn't have to end so soon after that (and if only the revelation of the full true nature of this whopper didn't have to be postponed to the film's closing moments). On the other hand, I figured out one of the major "surprises" pretty early on, and I say this as one who, to my shame, missed the obvious hints in The Illusionist.

Speaking of which, I appreciate how virtually all the magic tricks in The Prestige seem at least plausible, whereas The Illusionist had tricks that were so preposterous, and so obviously done with CGI, that I never quite got into that story the way I would have liked to. On the other hand, The Illusionist had Paul Giamatti and the music of Philip Glass, whereas this film does not.

It is tempting to call this film a clash between Wolverine and Batman, given that Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are the stars, but I am more inclined to call it a meeting of the casts of Batman Begins (Bale, Michael Caine; and of course there's the director) and Woody Allen's Scoop (Jackman, Scarlett Johansson).

Speaking of which, is anybody else getting tired of seeing Johansson in every other movie? Especially every other period movie?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Speaking of which, is anybody else getting tired of seeing Johansson in every other movie? Especially every other period movie?

I loved her in The Black Dahlia. I thought she was perfect in the noir setting.

You've now got me wanting to see both The Illusionist and The Prestige, and both are out by me. I wonder which one I should tackle first? (The Illusionist is at the $5 dollar theater... Hmm...)

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

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Whew! I was relieved to learn that:

This film deserves its R rating for the harsh violence, the profanity, and the horrifying carnage of the battlefield (which is just as graphic, perhaps worse, than what is revealed in Saving Private Ryan).

I was concerned for a second that Nolan would wimp out and cut away from the horrors of modern warfare.

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YIKES! I sent Mark Moring an email -- that's not MY content advisory....

Discussion questions are wrong too -- look copied from "Flags of our Fathers." I hope Mark can get these fixed soon.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Overall very enjoyable film. Was good to me in all the ways that The Illusionist was not.

Didn't like two aspects though:

1 - The twist with Hugh Jackman's character

was given away way too early (at the tophat scene). To me it was an obvious "oh, so this is gonna be a double thing where the Hugh Jackman that's dead isn't really the "real" Hugh Jackman" from that scene on.

Would've been exciting to see this assumption get upended at some point. Instead, it was re-affirmed again (even more explicitly) with about 5 minutes to go in the film

(when we see the flashback of Hugh shooting his own double after trying the "machine")

. And STILL, there were a half dozen or so people around me who gasped out loud at the last shot

(dead Hugh in water tank)

, as if they had never put it together until that point.

2 - I found one of the plot twists extremely convenient. Namely, we eventually learn that

Bale's character is sending Jackman on a wild goose chase when he gives him the "Telsa" hint - knowing that there's nothing really there that helped him with his illusion at all.

However, when Jackman's character

falls for it and goes on the wild goose chase to Tesla, he actually ends up getting what he's looking for - a science-fiction-esque machine that just happens to do exactly what he needs it to do.

Quite convenient if you ask me...

Otherwise though, I really enjoyed it. Especially the performances, which I though were terrific across the board. As much as I like Giamati and Norton, they were outdone in this battle of the magic flicks by Jackman and Bale. Bale in particular was outstanding.

"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

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The twist with Hugh Jackman's character

was given away way too early (at the tophat scene). To me it was an obvious "oh, so this is gonna be a double thing where the Hugh Jackman that's dead isn't really the "real" Hugh Jackman" from that scene on.

Would've been exciting to see this assumption get upended at some point. Instead, it was re-affirmed again (even more explicitly) with about 5 minutes to go in the film

(when we see the flashback of Hugh shooting his own double after trying the "machine")

. And STILL, there were a half dozen or so people around me who gasped out loud at the last shot

(dead Hugh in water tank)

, as if they had never put it together until that point.

Well, FWIW,

the "real" Hugh Jackman" WAS dead. He died the very first night he did his big trick, leaving a newly-created duplicate to take his bows. That duplicate then died the next night, leaving its own newly-created duplicate to take the bows, etc. The Hugh Jackman we see at the end, the one that gets shot by Christian Bale, is merely the duplicate who happened to be created on that particular night.

Of course, none of the duplicates ever seemed to work out that this was the way it went. Thus the last duplicate says as he lies dying he "never knew whether 'he' was going to be the one in the tank or on the balcony." The one on the balcony was always the duplicate; the man on the stage always went through the trapdoor and into the tank.

FWIW, the thing that bothered me about that last shot is that it shows us a whole bunch of dead Hugh Jackmans -- ALL floating in tanks. As if he had 100 tanks, one for each night he was doing the trick. I gotta think that tank is a major expensive piece of equipment. He'd only have one. Obviously, the latest duplicate would merely fish out the body of the last one and reset the same trap to kill himself on the following night. I guess that was the only way Nolan could visually show what had really been happening.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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2 - I found one of the plot twists extremely convenient. Namely, we eventually learn that

Bale's character is sending Jackman on a wild goose chase when he gives him the "Telsa" hint - knowing that there's nothing really there that helped him with his illusion at all.

However, when Jackman's character

falls for it and goes on the wild goose chase to Tesla, he actually ends up getting what he's looking for - a science-fiction-esque machine that just happens to do exactly what he needs it to do.

Quite convenient if you ask me...

Yeah, I'd like to hear this one extrapolated a little more, myself.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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If this sheds any light on the #2 plot twist mentioned about (the

Tesla

one), the book went a bit more in depth.:

Borden realized, after seeing Angiers' better version of his Transported Man trick, he needed better showmanship. At the Tesla conference, briefly mentioned in the movie, he saw his chance to add some glitz to his act. He doesn't actually go to Tesla for help, but uses Tesla's presentation to add what amounts to window dressing to the Transported Man -- just some showy sparks and so forth.

Olive, the assistant/spy who defects to Borden, takes a note to Angiers that Borden has made her write. She tells him it's the key to Borden's trick, and it's the "Tesla" message. There was no stolen diary in the book version. So Borden did actually use Tesla in his trick, but he didn't elaborately plan to send Angiers on a wild goose chase. He just wanted Angiers off his case so he could hook up with Olive. The book also goes a bit more into Angiers' discussions with Tesla and how they came around to building a device for Angiers. I wish I had the book here for refence.

It doesn't make the chain of events less convenient for the plot, but it does make the process from A to B feel more natural and less contrived.

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It doesn't make the chain of events less convenient for the plot, but it does make the process from A to B feel more natural and less contrived.

Well, I don't know if it feels any more natural OR less contrived to me. Because in this case, while there's no "wild goose chase," it's just as bad that

she tells him that Telsa is the key to the trick, and that just happens to be where he finds his own key.

A less contrived version would be something like

Borden really did go to Telsa to have him make the machine, and Telsa tried but just never could get it right. In this case it wouldn't be so convenient that Telsa actually provides a solution to Angiers, it just wouldn't make any sense any more for Borden to send Angiers to Telsa. Unless Borden was absolutely convinced that there's no way Telsa's machine would ever work correctly.

"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

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Wow. I for one, was quite astounded by this one. The criticisms I'm reading here about the Tesla subplot honestly don't carry enough weight in my mind to bring this film down a notch. No, this is the finely constructed thriller/mystery that Memento tried to be. All the hints were there early on to the twist(s), but not too obscure nor too blatant.

I'm reminded of how I was blown away by The Usual Suspects when I first saw that film, but there we in the audience never had a chance to figure out the twist except by pure gut instinct. The clues were shown to us at the same time as Chazz Palmintari's character sees them for himself as he looks around the office. Here, the clues are in plain sight, but cleverly worked into the story.

Back to the Tesla subplot, while his machine may or may not actually fit into the "world" of this story (I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt), the actual subplot itself deftly mirrors the main plot, hinting at the rivalry between Tesla and Edison. Certainly, this is one of the best structured films of it's kind I have ever seen.

Finally, as to whether the film is actually "all gimmick, no heart," I think at this point it is best to look at Nolan's films as variations of a theme. He's tackling personalities. Both here and in Batman Begins, Bale's character has dueling or split personalities. Guy Pearce was split in Memento. I don't remember enough of the details of Following or Insomniato tie them in here, but I'm pretty sure they fit in the spectrum. I'm really anxious to see what he does with the Joker and further deveopment of the Batman character now.

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: Back to the Tesla subplot, while his machine may or may not actually fit into the "world" of this story

: (I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt) . . .

So am I. Especially because the way Tesla reacts to the discovery/invention of his machine is so plausible, so lifelike, so exactly what I would expect of a scientist/inventor in that era. "We were trying to find a way to do THIS, and instead we stumbled onto THAT..." Perfect.

: . . . the actual subplot itself deftly mirrors the main plot, hinting at the rivalry between Tesla and Edison.

Ah, good catch. I also like that "

Where's his brother?

" bit of foreshadowing.

: Finally, as to whether the film is actually "all gimmick, no heart," I think at this point it is best to look

: at Nolan's films as variations of a theme. He's tackling personalities.

Maybe. But in this film, at any rate, he tackles them in purely formal terms, almost mechanistic terms -- not unlike how, say, Hitchcock was prone to subject his characters to the rigor of modernist psychology, without necessarily giving them their due AS HUMAN BEINGS. There is mind here, but where is the spirit?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Wow. I for one, was quite astounded by this one. The criticisms I'm reading here about the Tesla subplot honestly don't carry enough weight in my mind to bring this film down a notch. No, this is the finely constructed thriller/mystery that Memento tried to be. All the hints were there early on to the twist(s), but not too obscure nor too blatant.

I'm reminded of how I was blown away by The Usual Suspects when I first saw that film, but there we in the audience never had a chance to figure out the twist except by pure gut instinct. The clues were shown to us at the same time as Chazz Palmintari's character sees them for himself as he looks around the office. Here, the clues are in plain sight, but cleverly worked into the story.

At a risk of sounding more critical than I really am (because I really DID enjoy the film), when you say that the hints are "not too obscure nor too blatant," I'm not sure it would've been possible for them to be more blatant, at least concerning the Jackman character. I can't tell if what you're saying in your comparison to TUS is that here they are completely obvious (unlike TUS) but still work in the story, or if you're suggesting that they're just as cleverly hidden here.

I'm usually quite late at picking up on surprises or twists in films, but the tophot scene in this film didn't seem to be a *hint* as much as it was a blatant *answer*.

I'm really anxious to see what he does with the Joker and further deveopment of the Batman character now.

As am I, but worried about Christopher's stepping out of the director's chair for his first-timer brother...

"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

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As am I, but worried about Christopher's stepping out of the director's chair for his first-timer brother...
Wh-WHAT?? I've seen nothing about this in our Dark Knight thread. And Christopher's still listed as the director at the movie's IMDb page. A quick glance at some other likely sources turns up nothing?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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As am I, but worried about Christopher's stepping out of the director's chair for his first-timer brother...
Wh-WHAT?? I've seen nothing about this in our Dark Knight thread. And Christopher's still listed as the director at the movie's IMDb page. A quick glance at some other likely sources turns up nothing?

Hmm... Okay, I take it back for now. Consider it an unfounded rumor. I was told this was happening a few days ago by a manager friend in the business, and - not following such things closely myself - just assumed it was 1) true and 2) widely known.

So ignore it for now. If I can follow up with something more specific from my friend I will. Sorry for the disturbance. :)

"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

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Close to a really good movie, but...

The Tesla machine that does the physically impossible

really turned me off. Whereas they went to such trouble to make all the other illusions so believable and so technologically appropriate to the time, this one is just way too far out. And since the story rests on that, it killed all the good plotting for me.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I guess I'm midway between the two Darr[e/y]ls on the Tesla Problem. I agree with Darrel that it IS a problem; however, it doesn't KILL the movie for me, largely because the movie doesn't settle for Tesla's machine on the level of a deus ex machina plot resolution, but takes it to the next level vis-a-vis the implications and consequences for the characters and their choices.

How Darrel feels about this movie is, I think, pretty much how I felt about Vanilla Sky. This movie for me is better than Vanilla Sky (and this is a point I almost wrote into my review, and might yet) in part because the ill-fitting technological device is not itself the final explanation, only the basis for the final explanation, which is character- and choice-based rather than reductively about plot mechanics (not just "what's really going on" but "what character X is really doing").

Or, as I wrote in my review, "The device itself doesn't fit into the world of the story, but what the characters do with it does."

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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popechild:

I can't tell if what you're saying in your comparison to TUS is that here they are completely obvious (unlike TUS) but still work in the story, or if you're suggesting that they're just as cleverly hidden here.

I am suggesting that "here, the clues are in plain sight, but cleverly worked into the story." The clues in TUS were not clever at all, they were just hidden completely until we're "told" how clever they were. Here they are obvious, but cleverly worked into the story. You remember how in TUS we had, at the end, a series of flashbacks at the end of the film showing us what actually happened? Here there are a few, but for the most part, the audience is left to and actually can think back and see how all the clues point to the truth. Maybe the clues were too obvious for some, but I thought they were about just right. Maybe I'm slow, but I actually didn't see what was coming at the end until Michael Caine's character made a comment that would have been a huge plot hole. I didn't think a plot hole like that would have made it into this movie and then it all kinda snapped into place in my mind a few seconds before the big reveal, or the prestige, as it were.

SDG:

This movie for me is better than Vanilla Sky (and this is a point I almost wrote into my review, and might yet) in part because the ill-fitting technological device is not itself the final explanation, only the basis for the final explanation, which is character- and choice-based rather than reductively about plot mechanics (not just "what's really going on" but "what character X is really doing").

Good point. I hadn't even thought about it like that. I always said Vanilla Sky would have been much more effective had it ended about 10-15 minutes sooner than it did while Cruise's character was yelling for tech support...

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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