The Prestige (2006)

No professional magician would dare begin a critique of this film. Locked into its import is that one sinister reality only the utmost gifted and privileged of that caste dare consider, that there is a realm of magic beyond the art of illusion; be it deigned of scientific technique yet discovered or of a close adeptness to matters of nature through the clarity possessed of the keenest of insights. Nicholai Tesla was an a example of a man possessing both these assets. And in reality produced many examples from what only such extraordinary abilities could derive.

This is very important to a full grasp of the movie, The Prestige, both to interpret it and to appreciate its parallelism. For the seemingly petty yet obsessed rivalry between the two magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale,) runs with a carefully constructed parallel with the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nicholai Tesla. This is true at all levels: character, professional, financial, and human values. Director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan clearly exceeds all expectations.

Two very astute roles voice highly insightful views on magic and science in the personages of Cutter (the incomparable Michael Caine) and Tesla (the inscrutable David Bowie.) Like a Greek chorus to our two combatants, their warnings go mutually unheeded as the magicians head into tragedy, leaving a body count in their wake.

The final words of one attempt to touch upon the professional magician’s ultimate notion of his craft and how it disputes the presumed “solidity” of a world far less glamorous than any magician worth his salt would have it. Unsaid, but still in subtle panning of the camera, the ending pertains to an even broader, higher concern reflecting back on the differences between these two men and ultimately on that of Edison and Tesla. Robert Angier becomes to Alfred Borden what Edison was to Tesla.

So as not to disturb the magnificent plot unraveling to the viewer, this reviewer will deal more in detail only with the latter parallel of Edison to Tesla, the showman dunce to the wizard genius. Edison ran a factory of inventors much the same way de Maupaussant ran a factory of short story writers, putting his name to the patent rights while paying very little for the ideas that created something to patent. With, one might add, very little coming out of it.

Tesla, on the other hand, came to America already accomplished enough to make electricity a cheap utility to anyone anywhere. By converting direct current to alternating current it could reach almost any distance with a minimum of voltage loss. Edison persisted in the idiot notion that DC was the only alternative and cared nothing about justifying his banal opinion. He couldn’t if he had wanted.  When Edison cheated Tesla out of $100,000 that Tesla had earned by helping build more efficient “booster” stations for bringing electricity to Chicago, the two became implacable enemies.

But Edison could make money as an entrepreneur since he knew how to play along with the industrialists, men that wanted to contain technology in order to maintain monopoly and established profit margins. Tesla, instead, threatened them, pioneering the entire field of electronics and making prototypes that functioned on principles yet to be known or scientifically discerned.

To fully grasp this movie’s end one must know exactly what the Tesla device is doing and why one magician proceeds to use it and why another stops after the one time use. As Tesla himself explains each attempt to perfect will have the unpredictable…perhaps more broadly upon subjects than to be immediately realized.

For Tesla such a project had secretly begun for the transport of matter, broadcast as was his perfected ability to broadcast electricity without wires…perhaps without any antenna grid. He had already succeeded in being able to produce ball lightening at will and claimed it was amazingly something of a dimensional portal. Thus the machine we see in the movie could have been a possibility, just one step further towards that transport of matter.

Angier’s assistant, Olivia Wenscomebe, played by the lovely and talented Scarlett Johansson is a role the actress serves as splendidly as Jackman and Bale serve theirs. Every nuance of expression and gesture has purpose and her delivery is a delight. Sets are works of art in-themselves and the magic equipment used is appreciatively insightful into the world of professional magicians. Effort and expense is not spared. The discovery of the fish bowl trick is engrossing and the selection of scene changes around it is extremely well done. Costumes are authentic and make-up artistry impressive.

Introduction of Tesla walking through the charged field of his Tesla coil generator was a wonderful touch. One of but many in the very first film of such caliber to dare an honest portrayal of a man clearly beyond his time.

No nudity, no unpardonable language, but still intense and engrossing enough to compete with any action film of today. Imagine that!

7 thoughts on “The Prestige (2006)”

  1. Well yes, in the strict sense of “tricks” or illusion. But, my dear, how
    does one actually top a device that can duplicate matter and transmit it?
    Were’nt you just a little effected when Angier discoved all those hats
    near his path as he left Tesla’s lab? And wasn’t the way in which the story was told and how this device came to be revealed at least almost as
    good as the tremendous conspiracy to bring two lovers together in the
    Illusionist?
    Now if you’ll just give me the slightest little assent, I’ll tell all here
    a true story just as astounding. (Since our host has already let me get
    away with not being entirely just a reviewer.) Though, indeed, I may be
    pushing my luck.
    But, as they say in Eastern Europe, the devil hates a sissy.

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