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Prestige, The

Entry updated 3 January 2022. Tagged: Film.

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Film (2006). Warner Brothers Pictures and Touchstone Pictures (see The Walt Disney Company) present a Newmarket Films/Syncopy production. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on The Prestige (1995) by Christopher Priest. Cast includes Christian Bale, David Bowie, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson and Piper Perabo. 130 minutes. Colour.

Rival Victorian stage magicians Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale), each leading a secret double life, obsess fatally over the workings of one another's competing Teleportation illusions, one of which is effected by a bizarre and ultimately tragic life-consuming imposture, the other by a matter duplicator (see Matter Duplication) built by Nicola Tesla (Bowie) whose operation carries a terrible cost.

As usual, Jonathan Nolan wrote the first version solo from a co-devised outline, and the brothers then took turns on successive solo drafts; the published version of their screenplay amusingly mimics the central narrative device of Priest's novel in its joint introduction. Work on the script was interrupted by Batman Begins (see Batman Films), but the Nolans' pet project benefited both from the additional development time and the resources available for its realization after Nolan's arrival on the Hollywood A-list. Their film has an infectious delight in its own brilliance, opening with an audacious promise to the audience of wondrous narrative sleights, and constantly challenging the viewer to see past its misdirection and mystification; it matters hardly at all that most viewers can, thanks to a pleasing affectation of limiting its purely theatrical (as opposed to thaumaturgical) surprises to what can be achieved by Victorian technical means. The bold genre-slippage in mid-film, where the film abruptly reveals itself as a work of sf as well as of more conventional forms of narrative legerdemain, was too much for some viewers, but is one of its major provocations as part of a larger thematization of misdirection, challenging audiences to attend more critically to the unreflective expectations of genre on which conventional film narrative silently rests. Almost incidentally a major work of postlinear cinema, the film recycles the central narrative device of Nolan's debut feature Following, with the deck of incident cut into three blocks which are then riffled together. Though the novel's present-day layer is discarded, the central device of embedded journal narratives is, remarkably, retained, and cinematized with considerable flair, and the consequently reconceived ending delivers a lingeringly effective sting of its own. The film's principal vulnerability to criticism is that, as in Nolan's later Inception, the exquisite formal machinery is itself the point, and the relatively underplumbed inner lives of its bizarrely fractured and fixated characters are constructed merely to motivate its twists; but the same could be said of sf as a whole. [NL]

see also: Doppelgangers.

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