How the characters in the film “The Prestige” worked magic: a clue
Country: UK, USA
Genre: fantasy, thriller, drama
Year of production: 2006
Director: Christopher Nolan
Actors: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Piper Perabo, Scarlett Johansson
The Prestige is Christopher Nolan’s most confusing film: its idea and ambiguous ending cause controversy and give rise to many interpretations.
The main point of the film “The Prestige” is that sometimes a person, trying to keep up with a dream, turns into a monster. The picture also talks about many other things: about rivalry, about sacrifices for the sake of art, about the thirst for glory.
What is the movie about
The Prestige is about two magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, who compete with each other in the art of creating illusions.
The film is based on Christopher Priest’s novel The Prestige. The genre is a crime thriller and retro fantasy. Priest and the Nolan brothers have extensively rewritten the content of the book. In particular, they removed the modern line, and also made warring magicians pals.
The main characters of the film are Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Frame from the film.
As the story progresses, friendship turns into a feud and professional rivalry into a deadly danger. The content of the film also becomes much darker: both characters are ready not only to insult each other or sabotage the performance, but also to destroy.
But still, both remember that they were once friends. One of them seeks revenge on the other, the second feels guilty. Throughout the film, Angier strives to uncover the secret of Borden’s tricks, and at the end of the film, he comes close to figuring it out. The truth he learns shocks him. What shocks him even more is that he knew this truth all along.
At the first viewing of “The Prestige” it seems that Robert and Alfred are doing real magic on stage. However, later it becomes clear that there is no magic, but only people who sacrifice their lives for the sake of tricks.
To show how magic tricks affect the viewer, Nolan did the trick himself. Like a magician, he fooled the viewer, trying to make him believe in magic.
Scarlett Johansson as Olivia and Hugh Jackman as Robert Anger. Frame from the film.
In all analyzes and reviews, viewers note the unique structure of the film. It is built not on the plot / climax / denouement, but on the very structure of the focus.
In the first part of the trick, which is called “Bait”, the magician shows the viewer a common object: a deck of cards, a bird, or a person. At the very beginning, the viewer sees Robert Angier, who is shown in close-up. He is bait for the viewer.
The second action of the focus is called “Transformation”. The magician takes an ordinary object and does something unusual with it. The viewer sees how Angier goes through a “transformation”: he falls into an aquarium and drowns. But the audience is in no hurry to applaud, because the point of the magician’s skill is not to make the object disappear. It should be returned, and this requires the third part of the number. This is the most difficult part, which is called “Prestige”.
The viewer waits for Angier to get out of the tank, but this does not happen. The “Prestige” phase comes at the very end of the film, when Angier still turns out to be alive…
That is, the climax is shown at the very beginning of the picture. In the opening scene, the director introduces the viewer to both the principle of the focus and the plot.
“Prestige” is a movie about magic tricks, about illusions and deceit. The best way to show this is to deceive the viewer while watching. Thus, the output is “a deception within a deception”.
So that the viewer can comprehend the hidden meaning of the film, Nolan placed clues in a variety of mise-en-scenes. The film begins with the words “Are you watching closely”? Thus, the director makes it clear that the film “The Prestige” is a gimmick. Will the viewer be able to comprehend its meaning on their own – before all the cards are revealed? ..
The first sentence of the diary is: “We were young and we had great success. We devoted ourselves to magic and tricks, and never wished harm on anyone.”
We are talking about two brothers, Borden and Fallon. But as bait, the viewer is given Borden and Angier, as if it were about them. This is how magic tricks work: they divert attention from what is really happening.
Throughout the film, Nolan deliberately avoids direct shots. Fallon in one of the mise-en-scenes looks too mysterious. Angier was close to the solution, but he was able to solve it too late. He described Borden as an ambiguous person whose mind was “bifurcated”.
In one of the mise-en-scenes, Sarah literally tells the viewer what he should pay attention to. She says, “Alfred, it’s not you. Stop pretending.” But such an explanation of what is happening does not suit the viewer …
Cylinders and canaries
The clue is hidden in the very first scene. We see many identical cylinders. In the next frame, we see a lot of identical canaries sitting in cages. After some time, the magician performs a trick with the disappearance of the canary, and one of the spectators in the hall asks where her brother has gone.
A minute later, we see the performance of the hero, which is an instantaneous movement. Borden says goodbye to Sarah and is at her house. But the thought that it is not him, but his twin brother, does not even visit us.
But the hint explanation in the form of cylinders and canaries indicated that the meaning of tricks (including those with movement) often lies in the number of identical objects.
Frame from the film.
The meaning of the ending
The ending of the film “The Prestige” can be called shocking: the picture ends with a giant revelation. And yet, thanks to the details hidden in plain sight, the twist in the finale seems logical.
The film focuses on the rivalry between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. It reflects the enmity between Angier and Borden. Thus continues the idea of motivation and duality that pervades the entire film. Angier does not disappear and does not return, as required by the “transformation” and “prestige”. He just clones himself time after time, killing himself in sickening penance for his wife’s death.
In his own way, Angier proves himself right in saying that “every trick can be copied.” By cloning himself, he is able to repeat Borden’s last trick using an identical twin. The only difference between them is that he would rather kill his clone than live by pretending to be someone he is not.
Angier arrives at Borden’s prison to gloat and force him to reveal the mystery of the human movement that he is so obsessed with. Borden bids Fallon a sad farewell, admitting that they should have left Angier alone after all.
Saying goodbye to his brother, Borden apologized for the fact that his affair with his assistant Olivia led to the death of Sarah. Borden is escorted to the loop, where he is asked what his last words will be. To which he replies: “Abracadabra.” He disappears – but these are no longer tricks. He will never return again.
It’s not enough to make an object disappear: you need to bring it back beautifully. In one of the mise en scenes, Borden shoots Angier and tells him the truth: he was Fallon and Fallon was Borden. He repeats that this is what real magic is worth, says that art requires devotion and sacrifice.
In the finale, Nolan shows the viewer what he missed – and this is the main difference between the film and a real magic trick.
Frame from the film.
The point of the film’s ending is that there is no magic, only good craftsmanship and science.
For Angier, the search for magic was the main driving force. He not only tried to convince people that magic exists, but he himself wanted to believe in it. The answer to the question “how does he do it” was constantly in front of him, but he rejected it, because he himself lacked magic and miracles in his life.
As a performer of tricks, he was also the most devoted spectator. He desperately searched for magic, although he knew better than anyone that there was none. So when he discovered Tesla’s clone machine, he agreed without hesitation to sacrifice his life again and again just to prove that magic exists.
We can say that in this film the director explores the theme of “genius and villainy.” There is not a single positive character here, altruism is alien to the main characters.
The backstage world of magic turns out to be full of lies, betrayal and intrigue. But the real world, the world of science, is no better: the brilliant electrophysicist Nikola Tesla, knowing full well what Angier’s searches can turn out to be, simply washes his hands.
In the film, Nolan presents jealousy (not in love, but in profession) as a virtue. Angier is a kind of “Salieri” (in a figurative sense – the real Salieri did not envy Mozart and was not the cause of his death), who is jealous of Borden’s “Mozart” for his talent – and for the applause that he receives from the public during the “miracle” with movement person.
Each of the characters wants to be a more skilled illusionist than the other. In pursuit of tricks, both were ready to sacrifice their own lives. Alfred and Fallon had one life together for the mere opportunity to be the best on stage. Recognition for them was a sufficient reward for their double life.
To understand the meaning of the film and its ending, one must turn to Tesla’s arc, which illustrates Angier’s obsession. He was ready to die dozens of times in agony, just to mentally “beat” his former friend.
The explanation for the ending is this: in fact, the real “prestige” is the appearance of one of the brothers killing Angier. And the focus of this “prestige” is the execution of the second of the brothers. That is, Angier understands before his death that he was tricked this time too.
Frame from the film.
So what is the movie about?
The main message of the film is a sacrifice in the name of art. Nolan wanted to show how obsessed a creator can be who lives for his creation. This happens not only with Angier, but also with the twin brothers: one life for two, the death of a beloved woman, a real death for one and an official death for another …
The heroes were absorbed in rivalry, and were ready for absolutely anything, just to win, to prove – and to see the fall of the “enemy”. They only forgot that such a victory cannot give pleasure, and that the conditional winner will never have peace in his soul.