How far would you go to fan an obsession? The Prestige, telling the story of a bitter and destructive rivalry between two magicians, asks the same question. The answer, when you figure it out, is chilling.
Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier) and Christian Bale (Alfred Borden) star as two nineteenth-century magicians driven by an obsessive drive to outdo the other. Other notable roles are those by Michael Caine (as John Cutter, Angier’s stage engineer), Scarlett Johansson (Angier’s assistant), and David Bowie (real-life inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla). The film, directed by Christopher Nolan, is based on the book by the same name, authored by Christopher Priest.
There is a dark and suspenseful air about The Prestige right from the start. It gets under way with Angier’s magic trick going wrong. We see him drowning in a water tank and subsequently Borden is tried for his murder. The story then veers off into a flashback, back to when Angier’s wife died in an accident during a performance, with him suspecting that it was Borden’s fault.
The gripping storyline is unfolded tantalizingly, continuously weaving back and forth between the past and present. As we get a clearer understanding of what lies beneath the two magicians’ drive to get one up on the other, we realize that this is no healthy rivalry. How dangerous can an obsession get? How much can any human being sacrifice for an obsession? Friends, family, life?
The presentation of the film is supposed to represent the three stages of a magic trick, as John Cutter describes to Borden’s young daughter: the “pledge”, or the set-up; the “turn”, or the act of performing the trick; and finally, the “prestige”, or the effect of the illusion or sleight of hand.
Any further discussion of the plot might be a giveaway, but all I have left to say is: see it!