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Watch: 7-Minute Video Essay Explores How Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Prestige’ Hides In Plain Sight

Watch: 7-Minute Video Essay Explores How Christopher Nolan’s 'The Prestige' Hides In Plain Sight

Though he has less than a dozen feature films under his belt, Christopher Nolan has become an innovative, force to be reckoned with. From his socially relevant debut, “Following,” to the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Inception,” Nolan has continually demonstrated his uncanny ability to seamlessly mold a story into a beautiful cinematic archetype.

READ MORE: Christopher Nolan’s Next Movie Is A WWII Film Centered On The Evacuation Of Allied Troops From Dunkirk, France

In a new video essay from The Nerdwriter, they focus on Nolan’s fifth film, “The Prestige,” the story of two feuding magicians in a spellbinding, climactically triumphant narrative. Nolan uses this narrative as a powerful force, it’s how he connects with his viewers and draws them in, without, as he likes to put it, deconstructing anything.

In other words, “The Prestige” is almost meta-meta-cinematic. It uses multiplicity in plain sight, as the essay suggests, in order to provide a unique viewing experience without compromising any answers for the audience.

A terrific film with a stellar cast (Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and Michael Caine), if you’re a fan of Nolan, it’s time for a rewatch. Check out the video essay below.

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Comments

Mike D

Well edited and presented. Great job

Gabriel Fregoso

This is really bad cinematic scholarship. With every great movement in cinema, there is an equally great amount of responsible film scholarship that helps sharpen the thinking of the artists, and gives directors, filmmakers, producers a macro picture of this artform. This essay borders on true hyperbole with a lot of muddled, half-assed cinematic theory and critical studies jargon thrown in to sound authentic. Problem is the jargon is used incorrectly, and your thoughts on the subject are not clarified. Clearly, Nolan has proven once again that he doesn’t really know what he is talking about when it comes to cinematic narrative. “Deconstructionist” and “self-reflexive” are two different concepts. The “Purposeful change” that he made to Batman’s origin story in “Batman Begins” was actually the act of an individual who did not care for an aspect of Batman’s origin that many, many, many comic fans, everyone from Jim Lee, to Frank Miller, to Jeph Loeb, to Bruce Timm, to Tim Sale care about. This is as much a part of Batman’s origin story as is his parents being killed. On a meta level, Batman is a cinematic creature. And it’s nice when the comics and the movies and the Animated Series allude to his cinematic influences. For Nolan fans, this aspect of Batman can be readily changed without hesitation. For Batman fans, this is part of his iconic core mythology. It is as iconic as his costume, and his emblem. Secondly, this idea that watching characters in a movie somehow falsely calls attention to itself, is cock and bull in one–filmmakers have been “self-reflexive” for years. Hithcock, Scorsese, Spielberg, David Lean. Self-reflexivity does not necessarily mean that you are being “deconstructionist.” In film scholarship, deconstruction is the act of breaking down the mythology of a genre, and turning it on its head, so that it plays against type, while fulfilling some of the audience expectations of the genre. A film like “Unforgiven” both plays as a deconstruction of the post-war Western film, while at the same time, being a great example of a movie that fulfills audience expectations of the western genre. “Deconstruction” also refers to the idea that a filmmaker calls attention to the production and plastics of cinema itself. This is when someone like Jean Luc Godard uses a genre to break apart the film medium and expose its artifices–all the tricks and techniques that it uses to give you the illusion of seamlessness. And yet, deconstruction points out cinematic seams. So when Christopher Nolan says that watching a person in a movie watching a movie is a deconstructionist thing–it’s complete and utter nonsense, and a complete misuse of the term. What’s worse, is that the video’s creator goes on to say that Christopher Nolan is about “immersion.” What filmmaker is not about immersion? Even a deconstructionist filmmaker like Scorsese and Cronenberg and David Lynch are attempting to immerse you in their own psychology. Audience identification is important to sell and illusion. Even when filmmakers like Scorsese and David Mamet or even Kubrick use Brechtian techniques to rupture or play with audience identification (something that DePalma and Hitchcock used as well), they have to lull the audience into a state of immersion. A state of cinematic hypnotism. Yes, they can take you out of it, and pull you back in. And many of the best filmmakers do just this. What you really seem to be saying is that Christopher Nolan tries to hide his presence within the text, but even Spielberg does this. If you studied film theories 101, you would understand that any manipulation of narrative in a non-linear fashion, or any use of camera angles and lenses that deviate from the eye’s own natural optics (say anything below or above 50mm), or any ramping or slowing down of film footage so that time and space are disrupted–is called “formalism” and not “realism.” Christopher Nolan by definition is a formalist who uses his own “realistic” language to create the illusion of realism. He is not a realist in any sense of the word. He talks a great deal about realism. He strives for the illusion of realism. But Christopher Nolan is a formalist. Just like Tarantino is a formalist. Most filmmakers today are exactly that, except for people like Clint Eastwood, Peter Berg, and some Michael Mann. But despite their formalism or their stylization, they use narrative, even disruptive narrative, to hold your attention. This is why you should really take a basic film theories class, so you can understand that even though every director stylizes his movie to some degree just because of his individuality, not every director is a stylist or a realist. Some directors like Stanley Kubrick fight against their own style, and try to employ objectivity, and in the process create a very recognizable style, that fails to adhere to the language of realism as conceived by the realist school of filmmakers–everyone from De Sica to William Friedkin. But even–and here is the point that I am driving home–even when a filmmaker like Jean Luc Godard or Alejandro Jodorowsky purposely peel back the layers of cinematic production to expose the underlying artifice of moviemaking–they still rely on immersing you in the experience as they do so. Great storytellers have done this for years in literature and are doing it in videogames. It is part of entertainment. A better example of your argument is Orson Welles. When Orson Welles employed avante garde filmmaking techniques on “Kane” and “Magnificent Ambersons” and “Lady from Shanghai” and “The Strange”–he still utilized narrative to motivate the brilliance of his technique. A perfect case is the Mercury Theater radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” where Welles, as everyone knows, mimicked the medium or radio journalism, to convince people that a real martian attack was taking place. Again, Welles used a very forward-thinking and original idea, to create a facsimile of reality and to remove the signposts that would alert listeners to the fact that they were listening to a fantasy. Please, please, please hire some good cinematic scholars–people who don’t just make opinions up and try to alter facts to fit their thesis. Nolan is a brilliant enough director in his own right to create articles and essays that stand up to cinematic scholarship. But please, please don’t pass this drivel off as anything more than hackneyed opinion. I shudder to think that the American film culture is this irresponsible. Giving people false information and false impressions of the study and cinema, and misusing scholarly terms used by great cinematic essayists like Pauline Kael and Kenneth Turan and J. Hoberman, and Dana Polan, and Elvis Mitchell, and David Bordwell is doing more harm than good. In order for the craft to get better, we have to start with a clear and precise understanding of the lexicon with which we use to dissect and analyze movies. We can’t just arbitrarily impose a false meaning on words and phrases in circulation to sound intelligent. Thank you.

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