Prestigious problems.

I figure now that Christopher Nolan is being loved by everyone, this is a good chance to tear down one of his most respected films : The Prestige. This post has rooms full of drowned spoilers.

I’ve written about magic on this blog a fair bit. I want to make it clear that none of my issues with this film have anything to do with the way it portrays magic. It portrays magicians as assholes, but they often are. It portrays people with bird acts as particularly cruel… but eh, artistic license. That isn’t my problem.

I refer you to to my “twisted post” where I ramble on and on about how a movie with clever twists alone does not make it a good movie. This movie hinges not only on the twists working, but also on a sense of mystery. It begins like a mystery novel too… with a criminal investigation. With facts that describe an impossible thing.

Throughout the film, Nolan goes way out of his way to show us over and over again that “magic” is not real and that all the deception is these two clever sleight of hand artists. He shows us the bird. He shows us how the bullet catch works. We learn all about trick knots. Michael Caine’s character exists as a sort of magic consultant to explain things to the audience and the two men. Again, this is not a critique of the exposure at all, but the film does set up the first half so that everything is not only explainable, but explained.

At a certain point in the film you are asked to believe that a lightning shooting device can clone a human being. This obviously goes against the “let’s explain everything set up” from earlier in the film, but maybe that was the point. Maybe it was all about luring the audience in only to punch them in the face with a science fiction plot they can’t explain. It’s a little unfair… it’s kind of like resolving a Sherlock Holmes mystery by saying “ghosts did it”, but maybe that’s what they were going for.

What bothers me is that there was no attempt at all to sell the science fiction premise of a device that clones things with lightning. That concept doesn’t even exist in ANY science fiction I’ve heard of. They bring Tesla into the goddamn film, and he has nothing to say on the subject. The movie revels in fictional explanations of real things, but it can’t even give us a fictional explanation of a fictional thing.

I don’t know why suspension of disbelief doesn’t go to hell for everyone at this point in the movie. This movie is structured to destroy suspension of disbelief. You need to take a huuuuge leap in order to make it to the ever so clever conclusion. I’m not even down on this film because it doesn’t make sense on this particular point. I’m down on this film because it contradicts itself so badly before and after the magical lightning device is introduced.

As of now, The Prestige is number 83 on the IMDB top 250 … and I sorta get it. It’s a good story about a rivalry and obsession.. which is always a good thing. It’s well acted and I did enjoy it when watching it. However, I could not get past this… maybe someone can rush to this film’s defense ?


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January 2009
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