Sunday 9 December 2007

The Prestige

I came to The Prestige expecting another crime thriller from director Christopher Nolan, whose credits include the excellent Insomnia, which saw Al Pacino sleepless in Alaska. Had I realised that the source material was a novel by Christopher Priest, who won the World Fantasy Award for it, I might have been better prepared for some of the unexpected twists and turns. To say that the plot is complex is no under-statement, but of course a fan of elaborate mysteries can hardly complain about that, and I certainly enjoyed the film – and the clever use made of some devices from traditional detective fiction, although for different purposes.

It’s a movie that benefits greatly from a high calibre cast – Christopher Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlet Johansson, and David Bowie. There are three main story-lines, but in essence it’s a tale of obsessive rivalry between two magicians, and of the dark consequences of their enmity.

Classically, detective stories were wholly rational pieces of work. Explanations that depended on the supernatural were strictly taboo. Yet magic has long fascinated detective writers – especially creators of locked room ‘miracle’ problems, such as John Dickson Carr, and Clayton Rawson, whose series detective was a magician, the Great Merlini. Rawson wasn't as prolific as Carr, but he was almost as ingenious. More recently, David Renwick made Jonathan Creek a creator of illusions in the brilliant, and much-missed tv series named after him.

The Prestige may not be a crime movie in the orthodox sense, but it’s bound to appeal to many crime fans. And if the plot’s elaborations are a tad confusing on a first viewing, there’s a rather good entry in Wikipedia which sheds light on them.


Elaine in Missouri said...

Dear Mr. Edwards,
Let me begin by telling you I am quite a fan of Hugh Jackman. I try to see all of his work. I was really looking forward to The Prestige especially after hearing the entire cast list. I have seen it twice and honestly must say, I still don't get it. I was thrilled to hear you say more info was on and I read all of it. I still don't get it. All I am certain of now is that the movie took many liberties with the book which really isn't a book per say, but rather explicatory (letters, papers, diaries). I wish someone could just explain it in plain English. Does Angier die in the end or is that one of the doubles, clones whatever they call the duplicate that the machine makes? Neither Wilkipedia nor the film give a clear answer.
I would love a response.
I feel like such a dummy,
Elaine in Kirkwood, Missouri USA

Juliet said...

I absolutely loved this film, and saw it twice when it first came out. The first time was for my elder daughter's 13th birthday with a group of her friends, who talked all the way through and didn't see the point of it at all. My son, on the other hand (whom I thought would be the one to find it too grown-up) was completely enthralled and talked about it so much that I took him to see it again. Genuinely mesmerising. I seriously struggled with the book however - really couldn't get on with it and gave up in the end which is something I rarely do.

Martin Edwards said...

Elaine, good to hear from you. I'd say that anyone can be forgiven for finding it a tough story to figure out. My undestanding is that he does die each time he falls into the tank - but a duplicate is created and transported back on stage. But if I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will be quick to point it out!
I'm interested that both you and Juliet have seen it twice. It's the sort of film that probably offers something extra each time one watches it.