Are you watching closely?
While I had bronchitis a while back (as I said in the last post), I rented The Prestige and The Illusionist at the same time. On The Illusionist, I was … meh. The Prestige, though… I loved every minute of The Prestige. While I’m not a fan of Christian Bale, he was extremely good in this – and: Hugh Jackman! Andy Serkis! Nikola Tesla (played by Bowie!)! Michael Caine!
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t ant to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”
It was the slow spiral downward of the rivalry which started as just that: a simple professional rivalry – but which developed into a hate-filled pattern of revenge and retribution… it was dread-ful and fascinating to watch. I’ve been a proponent of Tesla (and a despiser of Edison) since Spider Robinson brought him into my life, and that made this a sheer geeky joy. Any time Andy Serkis is on screen in any role is marvelous – and I had no idea going in that he was in this. I loved the portrait of magic in the time period (poor doves). I loved that a key to the whole movie is given to you, gratis, when you least suspect it, and you don’t know it till the end – but it’s not the only key. I loved that the very last shot of the film simultaneously answered all the unanswered questions and knocked the viewer sideways – well, it did me at any rate; I walked around for an hour with a slightly stunned look on my face randomly saying things like “Holy crap!” Eloquent, I know, but – wow. Wow. Loved it.
I mentioned in the last post that after I talked about these two movies on TBWSRN, ugliness ensued; it was particularly odd, because I also talked about Stranger Than Fiction and other things as well (I was sick, and watching a lot of movies). But once I had brought them up, many of the posts that followed seemed to consist of “oh, I figured out the twist to The Prestige before it was half over, and my kids got it before me”, which I found just rude – or of expressed opinions that while Illusionist was beautiful and wonderful, Prestige was nasty and sordid, with an underlying cargo of “therefore anyone who liked the latter better than the former must be twisted and nasty too”. And – though I loathed the manner in which it was said, and loathed the sentiment expressed – there was a nugget of truth to the hateful opinions: the two protagonists in Prestige do fall very low. Once they were friends – – and by the end of the film it looks like if they both survive it will be a minor miracle. But that was a part of why it was so fascinating. The story of two men, both decent though one started out on somewhat higher moral ground than the other, knocked down by a terrible event, and never able to forgive or be forgiven, interwoven with illusion and deception – it was gold. Two men for whom magic is a science, and one man for whom science is magical: I found The Illusionistto be utterly lacking in passion, and perhaps it was because The Prestige used up the season’s quota. I couldn’t entirely buy into the deep love Ed Norton’s Illusionist was supposed to harbor for the girl he sought after – but Hugh Jackman’s insane grief for his wife was believable, as were both his and Bale’s characters’ obsession with their art.
Despite the ugliness of the battle between the two performers, the element of real magic in The Prestige was what drew me and kept me, and left me rocked at the end. The Illusionist was coy and stand-offish, and gave the appearance of dangling its secrets just out of reach – when really it never intended to give anything away at all. Here, though – The Prestige may not, in the end, have divulged as much as it appeared to – but it was in its way a more honest story, and if the story wasn’t as pretty or didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to … that was because the truth was not pretty, and couldn’t go as I wished.
And I really am a huge fan of Tesla.
Hotel Manager: I thought they might work for the government.
Robert Angier: No?
Hotel Manager: Worse. They work for Thomas Edison.