We weren't sure from which angle to take The Prestige. A fancy-looking costume drama, it looked like it had pretensions to Oscar baiting. Its eventual revelation (to us, at least) that it is basically a fun, pulpy Gothic novel - think Edgar Allen Poe Lite - was unexpected. Were we missing something, or was it really this... silly?
Because The Prestige was silly. But we don't mean silly in a pointless, childish way. We mean silly in a "villains twirling black mustaches while they cackle over their eventual dominion" way. It was fun. It was self-consciously stylized ye olde pulpe. It was DASTARDLY. Ha ha!
Watch out, people - we may spear you with our rapier-like wit!
Following a dastardy duel to the death between a pair of competitively Ha ha!-ing magicians in 19th century London, The Prestige is directed by Christopher "he who brought us Dark Knight five times in the theatre" Nolan and stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. If you saw Dark Knight, you should have an idea of the film's aesthetic: brooding scenes suffused with moody lighting, lots of shadows, and some funky storytelling. The Prestige's main plot worms its way out of a tangled straitjacket of Cluedo-style scenes which make light of chronology and, heck, the time-space continuum (seriously, it gets pretty freaky). We spent the first half hour trying to figure this movie out - "But what are the themes?!" we wailed, clawing at our copy of Roland Barthes. We spent the remaining time enjoying with more and more glee the slightly trashy quality of this murder mystery. Was it Hugh Jackman in the library with the candelabra? Or was it Christian Bale in the kitchen with the wrench? Our money's on Colonel Mustard. Ha ha!
OMG they figured out how to make the Earth a giant outlet!
No, seriously. For a film as superficially... uh, well, superficial as this, if you think about it, it has quite a lot of meat to it. Just like the focal Transported Man trick in the film, there really is more than meets the eye - and it's not just smoke and mirrors. The clever parallels are particularly fun - keep an eye out for people getting stuck in water tanks; also, nota bene how poor ol' Christian and Hugh destroy themselves in the feud (literally!). And the subtle commentary on Dickensian London with its Gothic, steampunk vibes - you can just imagine Sweeney Todd working down the street from the magicians - and completely dodgy Industrial, pre-labor rights environment - can you imagine PETA during that dove scene? meltdown, people - is really quite fun. Director Nolan has a very specific aesthetic in mind, and he makes strong visual references to the heritage behind that aesthetic. (There are no clocks buried under the floorboards though, thank God.)
The freakiness factor of the film also reaches some pretty surreal heights when, in the following order, we get
- Andy Serkis... who most of the world knows as the man who is Gollum
- David Bowie?!
- science fiction