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The Movie: The Prestige (2006)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Two obsessive magicians cannot help themselves but be caught up a rivalry that ends multiple lives (most notably two wives) and reveals the dangers of toxic masculinity.
Why It’s on the List:
This movie could easily have just been “Oh, it’s Wolverine and Batman in a movie together.” You probably had Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale at their peaks with Christopher Nolan not far behind. This was something that on the surface was very different from Batman Begins, yet Nolan once again returned to his most consistent themes: time, obsession, and of course, dead wives/girlfriends.
The theme of obsession is something David Fincher also likes to explore as well, and his methodology tends to lead to darker and more challenging endings. Nolan enjoys a good twist and always shoots for a PG-13 rating so his movies never feel as dark. His ability to craft two awful people that we as audience members can still invest in is a real achievement. Make no mistake about it,Robert Angier and Alfred Borden are awful people. They gaslight women and try to achieve the highest levels of magic without regard for anyone. Borden seems to come to his senses after his wife commits suicide, but think about what it took for him to get to this point.
Maybe this is something I’ve only become more aware of as I’ve come to know Jackman and Bale better, but it’s brilliant to have the former be the showman who can use theatrics to realize his vision of being a great a magician and the latter be a technical wizard at magic but not be able to realize his goals without a muse. Borden also commits to the bit so much that only his wife Sarah seems to figure out that there’s two of them, and there’s some cutting of fingers that happens. On rewatch, this particular twist becomes really obvious, especially when you get the close looks at Fallon.
It’s an absolute shame that two excellent actors in their own right, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall, get nothing to do. I always forget Johansson is in this movie because she does so little. She basically starts as an assistant for Angier before essentially being tossed over to Bordon and becoming the other women. As masterful as the execution of the story is, the lack of development for the female characters is an issue. Nonetheless, this is one of the most thrilling third acts in any Nolan film with twists being revealed and everything paying off. This movie rules.
*This is not a series of articles meant to break down the psyche of filmmaker, but Christopher Nolan has an obsession with dead wives and girlfriends. We’ve seen this clearly illustrated throughout his filmography. This film features two dead wives. You’ve also got two great actors in Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall being wasted as they carry zero agency of their own.
MVP: Christopher Nolan could have gone in a lot of directions. Even though he focused a lot of time on a blockbuster trilogy, he always rotated a non-Batman movie between films in the trilogy. To be able to tell a cohesive story with a complete lack of linear narrative is a feat unto itself. Obviously, credit also has to go to the editing and screenwriting, but Nolan continues to impress. This might go down as his most underrated project, but this is right up there as one of his best.
Best Performance: It’s a tough choice between the two leads because they really are treated as equals. Just for the fact that Christian Bale plays two people but pretend they are one. This is a really deft performance and since Bale doesn’t perform a lot of action moments or revert to the slicked back psychopath he’s done successfully on at least two occasions, he gets to play against type…at least to an extent. Nolan and Bale will probably best be remembered for their teaming up on Batman, but this is Bale’s best performance in a Nolan movie.
Best Quote: “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 really want 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’.” -Cutter
Is there a sequel? No.