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“The Prestige”: An unpredictable tale of obsession and revenge

“Man’s reach exceeds his imagination.”

The Prestige is a 2006 mystery and psychological thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan based on the 1995 novel of the same name. The story revolves around the lives of two feuding stage magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden(Christian Bale), during the late 19th century. The movie is told along two timelines- so beware of some impending confusion.

Warning: This review has slight spoilers

Angier and Borden are colleagues who work under John Cutter, an engineer who creates and designs stage magic. Both men are immediately distinguished by the attitude by which they approach their work: Angier is the careful, meticulous one who places more importance on the presentation of magic. Borden is the risk-taker which manifests as frustration with his company for not being daring or innovative enough. He is far more involved with the technicalities of a magic trick than the outward look of them. When a magic trick goes horribly wrong, resulting in the death of Angier’s wife Julia, the blame falls on Borden for tying a riskier knot. The incident becomes a breaking point, resulting in the two becoming bitter enemies- vying to make the other suffer as they embark on their respective magician careers. While their grudge takes them to new heights in their respective professions, it also demands from each of them unimaginable costs and sacrifices as they compete to be the one who laughs last.

The feeling of hatred shared between the two during the beginning is captured succinctly in the incidents involving Angier sabotaging Borden’s event by violently shooting his finger off- a great liability to a magician whose deft hands are essential to his or her profession- or Borden endangering Angier’s finale by causing injury to a volunteer and killing off the bird being used, causing the show to close down before it could really take off. However, when Borden comes up with his seemingly impossible “Transported Man”, the hatred turns to obsession, as Angier is fixated on figuring out how he does it. He says at this time, “The man stole my life. I’m going to steal his trick.”

As the story twists take darker, more mysterious turns, we explore the effects of their mutual obsession on each of the characters' personal lives. As we see Borden and his relationships with Sarah and Olivia deteriorate, certain incidents don’t clearly add up. Each scene hints at something deeper lurking beneath the surface. When Angier journeys to meet the scientist Nikola Tesla in the hopes to find an explanation for Borden’s trick he asks- “I need something impossible”. Tesla replies, “You are familiar with the phrase ‘Man’s reach exceeds his grasp?’ It’s a lie. Man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” The viewer is able to sense how the story seems to be revealing a larger more twisted solution that leads the two down their irredeemable path.

Slowly, as the two timelines merge together (The past highlighting their rivalry and the present where Borden is in jail accused of murdering Angier), the disturbing truth behind the story is revealed piece by piece as we inch towards the fateful encounter.

The Prestige is an excellent example of how to keep the audience’s attention in a mystery. It withholds just enough information despite us already knowing the consequences from the very beginning, and yet it reveals far more than what meets the eye by the end. Most movies with a past and present storyline often don’t handle it nearly as effectively. The Prestige's storytelling is ingenious and its execution ambitious, yet it delivers on every note.

Even the screenplay matches the tone of the story. One particular standout is when Borden performs a trick in which a bird vanishes and then reappears. Later, after the show, Cutter takes out a dead bird from a hidden slot on the table. When the first few dialogues of the movie ( said during this bird scene) repeat at the very end, it emphasizes how the lines were not just literal but metaphorical as well. It served as a haunting prophecy of the incidents that came to pass. Watching Angier and Borden feud is the same kind of feeling as watching a car crash- it is horrifying, but one cannot look away. It is a rivalry fuelled by grudges that morphs by monstrous proportions into something that eventually destroys them in every way. The writing brings to life their complex feelings with spell binding plot twists that will undoubtedly make you want to watch it again.

‘The Prestige’ is some of Christopher Nolan’s best work and I feel one of the best movies ever made in this genre. If you appreciate an intoxicating storyline that will keep you thinking for days, sprinkled with some phenomenal characters and compelling concepts, ‘The Prestige’ is a must-watch for you.

By Annapoorna Narayan

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