Today i’m going to be reviewing the prestige. This film has many tricks up its sleeve but some of them are all show and no substance. So hold your top hat and hear me out.
The Prestige (2006) Film Review And My Opinion
Be warned that this blog will contain spoilers as much of the discussion will be around the multiple twists in the film. The prestige follows the lifelong rivalry of two magicians in London during the late 19th century. As the magnitude of their tricks increases so does the thirst to understand the truth behind the trick.
Their rivalry gets progressively more deadly culminating in the ultimate trick, the transported man. This film is a special entry in the Christopher Nolan directing resume. It is one of two adaptations not including the batman trilogy which i consider to be a separate entity of its own.
His 2002 film insomnia was an adaptation of a Norwegian film of the same name and the prestige is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Christopher priest. He is a British novelist known for his work in the sci-fi and horror genres.
The Nolan brothers made many significant changes to the story when adapting it. Including the removal of the framing narrative that exists within the book which follows the descendants of Borden and Angier in contemporary times. This narrative also serves to introduce the supernatural sci-fi element to the readers quite early, whilst in the film the sci-fi element is brought in very late.
I will reiterate big spoilers are incoming. There are two main twists in the prestige,
- Firstly that Borden is actually the twin brother of Fallon and they have been spending their entire lives hiding the secret in order to pull off tricks such as the transported man.
- The other big twist is that anger gets a machine created by tesla that turns out to be a cloning machine and he uses it to clone himself every single night of his show and murder that clone in order to succeed in the same trick the transported man.
Now i have a few issues with these twists in terms of the first one from the start i thought that Fallon was suspicious. This weird manager who doesn’t say anything and hides under his hat. I anticipated that he would have something to do with the ruse. Though i was thinking more along the lines of he might have been a double that Borden had found at this stage in the film and concealed after which he then starts doing the transported man trick. The fact that Fallon ends up being his twin brother doesn’t deviate so much from my guess. But it does explain the rest of his erratic behaviour.
We get shown the magician Chung Ling Su who pretends to be crippled his entire life in order to pull off his performances. What’s interesting is that Chung Ling-Su was a real performer but he was actually an American magician called William Robinson, who pretended to be Chinese in order to make his performance seem more exotic.
Boring recognizes Ling Su’s fake persona and describes it as total devotion to his art and utter self-sacrifice. This reflects Borden and Fallon’s own self-sacrifice in spending their entire lives pretending to be one person and hiding the fact that they are too. This explains why their wife Sarah feels that one i love you is insincere. Also why Borden’s response to anger when asked about the night of Julia’s death is that he doesn’t know which knot he tied because it’s the other twin talking.
One thing that didn’t make sense is that the film makes clear that one twin loves their wife Sarah and the other twin loves their mistress Olivia. Yet they continued swapping places which led to the destruction of both relationships. When they could have easily just stayed with the person they loved but made sure that they were not in the same place at the same time.
In the book the twins had become so used to being this one person that they both genuinely loved both people and that is why they continued swapping places. I understand how the change made in the film makes for a cleaner explanation of their behavior but it also adds a plot hole that was not there originally. I think it would have been better to acknowledge these negative effects that living like this would have had on these twins especially psychologically.
I think the film side-lines that in order to push the action forward. Regardless and even with my suspicion around Fallon i still think that the execution and reveal of this twin twist was successful. The audience can then go back to the multitude of clues that were dropped throughout the film and pieced together Borden’s character in an entirely new light.
The second big twist that of the cloning machine feels very cheap in comparison and by cheap i mean easy it’s a whopping Deus ex Machina that flies in and solves all of Angie’s problems in one fell swoop. I feel that with Nolan’s other films he is always upfront about the use of such sci-fi devices within his stories. Tenet interstellar and inception all had very complicated ideas but the genre was never in question.
Dunkirk was a war film with an interesting time frame whilst memento had all of its events out of order and memory was used as a storytelling tool. It never suddenly became a film about time travel for example. The prestige on the other hand is set up to be a period drama and mystery.
I thought that the choice of magician is a perfect profession to base a whodunit story around. There has always been an attraction to figuring out how a magician performs their tricks. This attraction is strong enough to sell this story of a lifelong rivalry however the cloning machine belittles that. I understand that this is part of the book. So the mechanics of the machine work a little differently. I also understand that it’s meant to show the length Angier is willing to go to in order to win. The fact that he simply cannot trust anyone not even himself. That is why he has to repeatedly kill the clone. It is simply too convenient a solution.
I think that this sci-fi element should have been better incorporated throughout the rest of the film or excluded entirely. With the big ticket plot items aside let me address the rest of the film in general. The cinematography, special effects and visual effects worked well together in order to present these magic tricks in an engaging way for the audience. There was a good balance between intrigue in the trick and a satisfying reveal once you know how it’s done. One thing that i have read repeatedly in reviews of the film is that the time jumps were too frequent jumbled and not easy to distinguish, given that the characters didn’t seem to age at all and the only indication we got of time passing was the growth of Borden’s daughter.
Personally i had no issue with keeping track of what part of the past we were being shown. The editing did feel messy and created an inconsistent flow throughout.
The production design was apparently not so good according to the trivia and goofs section of the IMDB page, where users have pointed out props and set items that would not have been present in that time period. The score had a very modern feel and at one point could definitely just have been the interstellar soundtrack. The old rock song playing in the credits was cool, sure… but it also felt very out of place at the end of this film.
Speaking of sound there is once again an issue with the clarity of the dialogue and inconsistent sound levels. It appears that this is a hallmark of this filmmaker that is totally unnecessary and ruins the enjoyment of his films. Luckily there were no characters with masks in the prestige so we can be at least thankful for that.
The accents in the film was so especially Christian Bale’s Cockney accent that felt a bit stereotypical. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying his performance. I also really enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s performance and there is something very satisfying about his character in the prestige wanting to become the greatest showman which he later starred in.
Michael Kane’s character was far better utilized than in tenet. Though curiously in both films he was primarily used for exposition. The female characters were dreadful. I am sick of watching scorned women that serve little purpose apart from repeating just how scorned they are.
At this point, i think the biggest twist that Nolan can give us is having a female character that actually does something important that affects or even cause the climax of the film. Overall the prestige offers an exciting story about a lifelong rivalry between two magicians. But fails to stick to trickery in favor of sci-fi magic. This somewhat spoils the emotionally rooted journey of the main characters and leads to a far too convenient ending.