Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed but often overlooked mystery-thriller, The Prestige, was released 10 years ago on 20th October 2006.
Starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, the film follows two rival magicians as they both grow increasingly obsessed with trying to one-up each other in their attempts to perform the best stage trick. After one attempt ends in tragedy, a cataclysmic unveiling of mistakes is revealed and trust is soon misplaced. The question of how far one would go to dedicate oneself to art encircles the film, trailing out into veins of obsession, secrecy and sacrifice which all entangle together in the third act, as morals are tested and the line between right and wrong begins to blur.
As is usual with Nolan films, the screenplay was written by Christopher and his brother Jonathan, and reunited the power-house trio of Nolan, Bale and Caine once again, following their collaboration on 2005’s Batman Begins. One of three different films in 2006 following the work of stage magicians, The Prestige grossed $109 million, and was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction at the Academy Awards, remaining to this day a favourite amongst thriller fans.
Nolan was especially thorough when it came to casting. Whilst on the hunt for a suitable actor to play Angier, Nolan saw the qualities of nuanced showmanship in Jackman – an important requirement he sought for. Nolan later explained that Jackman had a “wonderful understanding of the interaction between a performer and a live audience” and that he was impressed by the “great depth [Jackman had] as an actor, that hasn’t really been explored.” Jackman would later go on to star in a handful of Academy Award winning films, like Les Misérables, and several critically acclaimed stage plays, branching out from his Wolverine trope. When casting both Bale and the late David Bowie, Nolan remarked, on different occasions, that it would be “unthinkable” for anyone else to play either of those parts. Bowie even refused the part at first, until Nolan flew over to convince him, as a lifelong fan, that only he could play the part. Bowie accepted within minutes.
Considered a remarkable effort and exploration into human obsession and secrecy by a good majority of critics, The Prestige also utilises other motifs and objectives into its treasure chest of commentary and knotted plot twists. Doubles and parallels, for instance, reside deep in the foundations of the film. Not only are Angier and Borden parallels of each other, using tricks that literally (spoiler!) use or require doubles, but their rivalry is founded on the basis that they are unwilling to let that parallel continue – each wants to better the other. But with each separate trick (and with the further parallels and patterns that are dotted all over the film – Tesla and Edison, Alley and Cutter, etc.) also being founded on the use of doubles, they are unable to escape the one thing that’s drawing them closer to catastrophe. They are unable to truly succeed because their obsession has made them too similar – they are inescapable doubles of each other. And it’s that kind of nuance that elevates Nolan’s masterpiece to its inevitable, devastating conclusion and hangs it near the very top of Nolan’s towering pile of achievements.
And with that being only one of the several motifs, themes and arcs of the story, The Prestige is a film that deserves countless re-watches. So why not start now?
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