Sunday, October 22, 2006

THE PRESTIGE: Discussion

I went into THE PRESTIGE with very high expectations. I love Christopher Nolan's stuff and will hands down go see anything he ever makes. MEMENTO is one of my all time favorite movies, and BATMAN BEGINS is pretty high up on my list as well. But I've got to say, I walked out of THE PRESTIGE with really mixed feelings.

First the good... and there was a lot of it. In my last post on THE DEPARTED, I talked about how well made movies give you all the information you need to know right at the very beginning of the film. Well, THE PRESTIGE is an another perfect example of this. The first two minutes of this movie are chock full of info, even if we don't quite have the means to understand it yet.

The first shot depicts all those top-hats in the woods; Tesla's machine hard at work. It's the first image we see, and it's actually the answer to one of the biggest questions posed in this movie... "How does that trick work?" It's the question that drives both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale into the realm of obsession, and holds the key to defeating the other man.

The next thing we see is that great scene where Michael Caine explains the "Pledge, Turn and Prestige" with the canaries to Christian Bale's daughter. I thought this was fantastic. Not only does it introduce us to the world of nineteenth century magic, but it also sets up Christian Bale's character, who ultimately is "the canary." This may in fact be my favorite thing about this movie.... the way each man can be boiled down to one image. With Bale it's the crushed canary; the sacrificed brother for the sake of the trick. And for Jackman it's his wife drowning. It's what defines his motivation, his relationship with Bale, and the actions he ultimately takes to pull off the trick... drowning himself over and over again... suffering as she suffered every time he performs.

But while this film presents us with such rich and intriguing information, the FLOW of this information throughout the story is not quite right. I found myself figuring out all the major plot points way before I was supposed to, and then waiting for the movie to catch up with me. It was all too predictable. As soon as Michael Caine chides Christian Bale about tying his knots, you know he's going to make a mistake and Jackman's wife will die. As soon as we see Tesla's cat get duplicated, we know Jackman's going to work it into his trick, and then it's just a short logical jump for us to figure out that he'll be killing himself every time he does it. Plus we've already seen the footage of him falling into the water tank and drowning...

And as soon as Hugh Jackman hires a double for his act, who shows up at Christian Bale's workshop but... "Fallon." The placement of this introduction (if you can call it that), combined with the earlier scene in which Bale watches the chinese magician fully "commit" to his act, led me to IMMEDIATELY figure out that Fallon was Christian Bale.

Personally, I thought the handling of Christian Bale's brother was wrong, wrong, wrong! We never get a proper introduction to Fallon, and the camera constantly avoids his face while he's onscreen. I know Nolan was trying to make this guy a peripheral character who just sort of sneaks into the story... but it completely backfired on him! I was more confused by this handling than anything else, and as a result I started watching Fallon MORE closely than I would have had he been treated in a normal fashion.

I also wasn't crazy about the fact that Fallon turned out to be Christian Bale's brother and not a clone. In particular, this bothered me because if Bale wasn't using clones, then how could he know about TESLA? He uses Tesla's name as the "key to his trick," thus sending Hugh Jackman on a wild goose chase all the way around the world... but then that name actually turns out to be the real deal!!! That, in my mind, is either a really big coincidence or a really big plot hole. Either way, it simply doesn't work.

But If Fallon had turned out to be a clone, on the other hand, I think everything might have panned out much more neatly. It would have meant that Bale had one of Tesla's machines all along (explaining that he DID know about Tesla and his work), and he was simply messing with Jackman's head by writing in his journal that Tesla was a hoax. Also, there would have been potential to do something interesting with the hangings of both Bale and his wife. Because they both died in the same fashion, I thought for sure that they had both cloned themselves and would resurface alive at the end of the film.

Another odd choice I noticed at the end of the film was the way Nolan reprised Michael Caine's "Pledge, Turn and Prestige" demonstration from the beginning. Don't get me wrong... I loved the way he brought it back... but here's the thing: When Caine describes the "Turn," Nolan cuts to an image of Jackman dying on the floor. This suggests that Jackman's death isn't the end, it's the part of the trick where he "disappears"... and as Caine explains, the audience won't applaud until the "Prestige," where he "reappears". Following this train of thought, I think it would have been a much more solid ending if Jackman had made one last clone, and as Christian Bale stands triumphantly over one of the Jackmans, another one pops up behind him and.... BANG!!!!

What do you guys think?


movieguy24 said...

I agree with most of what you say. It's not quite up to Memento, but it does draw you into its own little world.
I, too, was bothered by the handling of Fallon. It didn't hit the right note.And it was too important a point to foul up.
I liked your suggestion for the ending. It's a logical conclusion given all the cloning and would have been more satisfying.

emma said...

interesting thoughts, adam. i wonder how the movie would have felt if it done with your suggestions.

i loved the movie. i think christopher nolan is such a *great* story teller. i liked how he had all these hints and details throughout the movie. and how afterwards, i kept thinking about those little clues. and thinking ooooh... like the part with the boy crying about the canary's brother. that killed me in a sad sort of way.

i liked the theme about ambition and sacrifice... and i thought christian bale was perfect for that role since in real life, he's always completely throwing himself into his movie roles. (i didn't see "the machinist" but geeeeze. know what i mean?)

anyway, i'll just about watch anythiiing coming from the nolan brothers. but i agree with you about fallon's character. i wish he was developed more. btw, batman begins is my fave of the superhero movies. and dude, i'm super excited about the dark knight!!

T said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Being a Showtime/Starz/HBO/Cinemax, etc. movie watcher, I just saw The Prestige and LOVED it. But, I too saw some plot parts too early.
I thought for sure there would be a clone of Bale instead of his brother. It definitely would have led to more intrigue. But at the same time, less sacrafice.
Anyway, great critique. Thanks!

Amanda said...

Teslo was a real guy who did experiments (is that spelled right? I dunno T_T) with electricity and what-not. He was also known as being really eccentric. He was pretty famous apparently, so it kinda made sense to me that Borden would send Angier (can't spell that either T_T) to an entirely different hemisphere on a goose chase that at least sounded like it could be true. And it sounded true because, it apparently, was. ^_^ That's my idea on it anyway.

fozzzzi said...

I personally find The Prestige an underrated film and at the same time very clever. It takes a lot of balls for a director to introduce all these twists successfully and Christopher Nolan has accomplished just that. Christian Bale played a brilliant yet effortless part as Alfred or "Freddy" ^^. And Hugh Jackman, a fine actor has pulled off his character. And Michael Caine has done it again.

Tangerine Julz said...

All interesting reflexions. I liked watching it a 2nd time to notive every clue.
Now I have 2 questions. 1) when sarah said "olivia??? ... I know what you are, I know what you really are, I'll tell her". Did she mean "olivia? This has nothing to do with her"

Anonymous said...

Another thing, Christian Bale's character knew about Tesla because both he and Angier's went to one of his lectures in the movie.

Anonymous said...

I watched this movie yesterday and liked it a lot. It was so clever.

First I also was bothered by the way Borden lead Angier to Tesla. But then I started to think the way Cutter was telling us the whole story. Both Angier and Borden were his pupils or even his foster children. HE was the one, who recommended Tesla's lecture for the guys. And BOTH of the guys had an identical twin brother. Was Tesla's machine a creator of those twins?

When Angier goes to Tesla's place for the first time, he and Tesla's servant talk about the dublicator machine, which has already been created in the past. The subscriber of the previous machine wasn't Borden, as we know. I believe it was Cutter, and there's even one more trick behind the whole strory. Just brilliant!