“The Prestige” (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
A knotted period drama about the blood feud that forms between two dueling magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, both of whom deliver career-best performances by threading the needle between raw pathos and remarkable showmanship), this beautifully mounted film is like a coded look into Christopher Nolan’s mind. Characteristically unraveling its story by starting at its deepest layer and then winding its way back to the surface from there, “The Prestige” is a confessional epic about the perils of ambition and the pleasures of fooling ourselves into forgetting what we know to be true.
What elevates “The Prestige” above so many of Nolan’s other movies is that it investigates the illusion more thoroughly than any of his other films, and does so in a way that transmutes its sleight-of-hand shenanigans into the stuff of a genuinely compelling story. Angier and Borden are rich characters hatched from a simple conflict, and their obsessive rivalry — and the milieu in which its set — allows Nolan to broach his favorite subjects more directly than ever. He doesn’t have to spin a zillion plates in the air, he doesn’t have to invert the entire noir genre or spend 150 minutes explaining how dreams work; the world of magic gives him the perfect shortcut to explore the power of illusion. It also gives him the opportunity to cast David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, and somehow that’s only like the 10th best thing about this film.
It’s so satisfying because of how it comes together to serve its characters, because of how deeply it internalizes Michael Caine’s greatest pearl of showbiz wisdom: “The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.” A lot of Nolan’s movies feel like the work of a magician; “The Prestige” is the only one that feels like the work of a wizard.
Available to stream February 1
– “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things”
– “The Handmaiden”
– “The Big Sick”