Monday, October 3, 2011

The Muse Reviews: The Prestige (film version)

The Prestige is a 2006 film based on a book written by Christopher Priest in 1995. Today, I'll be reviewing the film.

The IMDB website summarizes the plot of The Prestige this way: "The rivalry between two magicians is exacerbated when one of them performs the ultimate illusion." It's hard to say more than that without giving the plot away, but I would suggest the plot summary should read more like this: Two magicians, spurred on by a grudge that grows worse with the years, play a vicious game of tit-for-tat retaliation until one performs the ultimate illusion.

The story is a mix of reality and fantasy, with just enough science fiction in it to move it beyond a typical history piece. But the use of fantastical scientific inventions is actually quite limited, and it serves only to help bring the plot to a logical, though tragic, culmination.

The energy that drives the plot forward in this movie is the unforgiving nature of the rivalry between these two men, Robert Angier (played by Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale). They continue escalating the war between them by embarrassing one another, sabotaging each other's acts, and damaging their relationships with others. Thus, the rivalry reaches beyond them to affect many other people, including those they love, as rivalries like this usually do.

By the time the movie ends, you feel sorry for these men but you also feel disgusted by the lengths to which they are both willing to go, for a less than noble cause. It's a cautionary tale of the dangers of obsession and pride, the power of unforgiveness to ruin lives, and the futility of retaliation as a means to bring peace and closure to painful situations.

The acting is solid, with Jackman and Bale putting in the expected leading men performances. Supporting roles are played nicely by Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis, and David Bowie. The movie was directed by Christopher Nolan, and you get his signature touches on the film. Dark, moody sets. Angry men. Christian Bale sounding like Bruce Wayne/Batman at times. If you like his other work, you should enjoy The Prestige too.

The strength of the writing in this film isn't necessarily the dialogue (which is realistic and serviceable, but not exceedingly artistic). Rather, the strength is the way in which the plot and structure of the story illustrates the movie's themes.

I was reminded of another classic science fiction story that uses science to examine the motives of human beings: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It would be hard to believe that Christopher Priest didn't have Shelley's book in mind as he wrote his novel because she, too, wrote about the way our weaknesses can create our own worst monsters. That concept is present well enough in the film adaptation to make the story speak to those, like me, who study literature. And it echoes the themes in Nolan's other movie made around the same time, Batman Begins. No surprise there.

Bottom line: If you haven't seen The Prestige, you should rent it or borrow it from the local library. It's definitely worth seeing.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. I didn't think I would have enjoyed the movie as much as I did. I had a feeling the visuals were going to be spectacular and I wasn't disappointed, and before I watched it I had no clue how intense it was really going to be.

    Also, I have a blog award for you if you'd like to drop by my blog and check it out.

  2. I LOVED this movie!!! My hubby and I have watched it a few times already, and we are still catching nuances and layers to the film. Thanks for reviewing it. :)


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