THE PRESTIGE

3 Stars – Thought Provoking

Magic has a way of gaining the attention of people of all ages.  Children want to believe that objects really can magically disappear and reappear.  Although Adults know that this can’t happen, they relish the challenge to try to figure out the illusion.

In “The Prestige,” two of the best magicians in the world are appearing on the stages of Europe and become obsessed with knowing how each other does the tricks that dazzle the other’s audiences.  Each man is so jealous of the other’s talent that he is willing to sacrifice all that is important in his own life in order to find out.  Along the way, the film tantalizes the viewer as it weaves great showmanship and science fiction into a compelling tale.

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) start out their careers as shills in the audience of another great magician.  When the magician asks the audience to participate in a trick he always picks these two out of the crowd to come up on stage.  As their mentor Mr. Cutter (Michael Caine) points out, every trick has three parts; the set up (getting their attention), the turn (making something disappear), and the “prestige” (making the object reappear).  Many great tricks require having others in the audience or back stage participate in the “the turn” or “the prestige” in order to pull off the surprise.

When Angier’s wife, who is also a shill, is killed when a trick doesn’t go according to plan, Angier blames Alfred Borden for botching the set up.  This anger ends up driving him throughout his life, even when both young magicians later become the best in their business.  In turn, Mr. Borden is driven to try to sabotage Mr. Angier’s act so that he can be seen as the “toast of the London stage.”

What follows is a series of increasingly more complicated stage productions that are motivated by revenge and jealousy.  This drive for outlandish showmanship leads Angier into the new world of electricity in which he teams up with an eccentric inventor, Nikola Tesla (David Bowie), to devise a fantastical trick that will allow him to be in two places at once.

The film causes the viewer to ask several existential questions:  What drives each of us to succeed?  Is it a desire to be the best that we can be, or is it a desire for immortality?  Is it personal wealth?  What happens when our talent and gifts in life are used to put others down in order for us to succeed?  When our motives are less than pure, our desired objective is always sabotaged by our own personal actions and in the end when are pitied rather than given acclaim.

“The Prestige” is a good example of how the trials of our lives can either strengthen us or cause us to descend into a struggle for our very soul.  Both Robert Angier and Alfred Borden spent their lives attempting to succeed at the other’s expense and to their own peril.  The question at the end of the story with which each of us are confronted is, to what length and depth are we willing to go to be seen as successful to the world or our families?  Will that measurement ultimately lead to an abundant life – or a lonely death?

 

Discussion:

  1. The tenth of the 10 Commandments tells us not to covet what someone else has.  In this film we see how jealousy can destroy our lives.  Have you ever been so jealous of someone that you were willing to harm them?  What happened?
  2. The fact that magicians work through “tricking” the audience has caused many people to believe there is no such thing as magic or the supernatural.  What do you think?  Is there real magic?  Are there real miracles?  Have you seen any beyond a reasonable doubt?
  3. The power of comparison to teach a lesson about life is a common literary and pedagogical technique.  To whom or what do you compare yourself?  Is such comparison helpful or harmful in your life?