I keep expecting director Christopher Nolan to swing and miss. He gave us a stirring Memento, wrestled with Insomnia, ensured that Batman Begins, and capped things off with The Prestige, my pick for greatest film of 2006. (In 2008, he’ll give us the next Bat-installment with The Dark Knight.) This 37 year old Brit not only seems to direct films about Americans better than Americans can, his directorial choices frequently delve into deep issues of subjective perception and human nature. Whether it’s a period piece set at the end of the 19th century, present-day human drama, or a comic book hero, Nolan’s exploration of human nature and obsession remain constant.
In The Prestige, these themes ripple throughout a challenging narrative exploring morality, perspective, vengeance, justice, deception… and perhaps most importantly SELF deception. As one character instructs us:
“You don’t really want to know the secret… You want to be fooled.”
Playing against traditional forms of protagonist and antagonist, Nolan adapts Christopher Priest’s novel using actors Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman to the portray bitter, rival magicians vying for supremacy in glory and fame, locked in a cycle of hatred and revenge.
Echoing the biblical King Solomon, there is even an Ecclesiastical lament: “You never understood, why we did this. The audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It’s miserable, solid all the way through.” Both men struggle for what they think is right, and what they are entitled to; it’s a tragedy echoing two poignant Proverbs:
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.”
– Proverbs 21:2
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
– Proverbs 16:25
Highly recommended, The Prestige is a brilliant example of the human condition. Because of the nature of this mystery thriller, it’s also one of those films that is astounding to view a second time once the secrets have been illuminated. The screenplay is meticulously crafted and the acting is high caliber, including a hard-to-recognize David Bowie portraying Nikola Tesla – another brilliant move not only placing the film in an interesting period of American history, but connected to a fascinating historical character as well.
For those who’ve seen the film, there is an audio discussion of these themes in greater detail below (caution: plot spoilers abound).