Friday, May 15, 2009

The Prestige

The Prestige (2006) was made by Christopher Nolan after Memento (2000) and Batman Begins (2005), but prior to the Dark Knight (2008). The Prestige, like The Dark Knight, is an excellent example of storytelling in film, no less due to a grasp on film and literary techniques.

Starting off from the beginning, the opening shot once again represents the idea of the film in the scattered field of top hats. It presents a moral dilemma in the nature of a magic trick and what lengths a magician will go to to deceive an audience. This is further explained through Michael Caine's ever-so-eloquent dialog about the 3-Act structure for a magic act. The Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige, which can be said to represent the movie's structure up until the very end.

Right from the introduction, which is the inciting incident, thankfully, you have three key things in The Prestige that Nolan also did in the Dark Knight: conflict, things go wrong, and mystery. First you have the conflict between Bale and Jackman as Bale rushes on the stage and watches Jackman drown. Bale appears to make no attempt to save Jackman, which works to establish conflict between the two characters--one wishes the other to die, or at least it appears so. Without this conflict, a story about an obsessed magician wouldn't be very fulfilling. Second, things go wrong in the inciting incident. It appears that Jackman fell into the wrong tank, or even a tank to begin with, and in so doing altered the correct state of affairs. A lesson learned from The Dark Knight: Everything going according to plan = BORING. Lastly, the inciting incident also has mystery--the audience needs a question that must be answered, otherwise there won't be an incentive to keep watching. Why does Bale kill Jackman, through inaction, no less? What is this giant Tesla machine that Jackman is using? What fueled Bale to let Jackman die? Questions also existed in the Dark Knight, except to a lesser degree, because Jokers could rob banks for any standard reason. In essence, however, both the Dark Knight and The Prestige have excellent inciting incidents that provide a strong foundation for each respective film.

The Prestige is told through a non-linear, flashback structure, starting the film at the ending, and then reverting back to the beginning. I usually loathe structures like this because they suspend the real narrative at hand and keep you restrained from further plot development. However--of course--I actually loved this in The Prestige, because it does it a bit differently. The film is set up so that there are three narratives going on at the same time: The End narrative (Christian Bale's jail cell), The Beginning narrative (Starting with the feud and the first murder), and the Middle narrative (Tesla storyline). Furthermore, each narrative has its own plot problems and goals for each character to achieve: Christian Bale must escape prison, Hugh Jackman must be a better magician than Bale, and Jackman must get the machine from Tesla. This works much better than those boring flashback story structures where the flashback is just exposition and buildup until the story problem which was revealed at the present (Iron Man--har har). By having three narratives, the stories intertwine and strengthen each other better than a linear narrative could. The non-linear aspect sets up key questions, such as: why did Jackman go to find Tesla? How and why did Bale murder Jackman? This non-linear narrative structures the story in a way that benefits it more than a linear narrative could.

The editing in The Prestige is also very well done. Key sequences are built up suspensefully by swapping shots between the incident itself, and the aftermath of the incident. When Jackman goes to Bale's magic show, the film does not portray this in a linear sequence with the show, and then Jackman's thoughts afterward. Instead, the film swaps in between what Jackman thought of the show afterward while reverting to the present, building up suspense toward the prestige (har har) in Bale's current magic trick. Doing this places a higher value on the scene and the suspense level. Nolan--or his editing man for that matter--also did this in The Dark Knight, most notably in the scene where Joker crashes Wayne Manor while simultaneously murdering the judge and the chief of police. This swap editing technique used in both The Prestige and The Dark Knight is an excellent trick to build up suspense.

So how does The Prestige compare to The Dark Knight and Nolan's other films? I would say that each film has its own distinct theme, and therefore must be judged separately for that. Each film endeavors to encapsulate its own ideas, morals, and themes, and should not be judged for not doing what the other films did do.
Memento is a film about memory--leading to death, revenge, trickery, deceit, obsession.
Batman Begins is a film about fear--leading to death, revenge, trickery, deceit, obsession.
The Prestige is a film about trickery--leading to death, revenge, trickery, deceit, obsession.
The Dark Knight is a movie about suspense--leading to death, revenge, trickery, deceit, obsession.

Each film has its own specific theme, but uses that as a foundation to catapult itself into its own unique story with its own twists and turns. The Prestige is no exception, and uses trickery as its method for success.

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At 6/04/2014 8:59 PM, Anonymous Droid University said...

shock ending movie, thanks for review
thank you :)


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