The Prestige (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Christopher Nolan|
|Based on||The Prestige
by Christopher Priest
|Music by||David Julyan|
|Edited by||Lee Smith|
|Box office||$109.7 million|
The Prestige is a 2006 science fiction mystery drama film directed by Christopher Nolan, from a screenplay adapted by Nolan and his brother Jonathan from Christopher Priest's 1995 World Fantasy Award-winning novel of the same name. The story follows Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, rival stage magicians in London at the end of the 19th century. Obsessed with creating the best stage illusion, they engage in competitive one-upmanship with tragic results.
The American-British co-production features Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier, Christian Bale as Alfred Borden, and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. It also stars Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo, Andy Serkis, and Rebecca Hall. The film reunites Nolan with actors Bale and Caine from Batman Begins, and returning cinematographer Wally Pfister, production designer Nathan Crowley, film score composer David Julyan, and editor Lee Smith.
A co-production between Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures, the film was released on October 20, 2006, receiving positive reviews and strong box office results, and received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Along with The Illusionist and Scoop, The Prestige was one of three films in 2006 to explore the world of stage magicians.
The film begins with a magician (Michael Caine) performing a vanishing bird illusion for a young girl explaining that each trick has three parts: The Pledge, where the audience is presented with an ordinary object; The Turn, where the object is turned into something extraordinary; and The Prestige, where the object is brought back.
The film then flashes back to the testimony of the magician in the first scene at the trial of magician Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) for the murder of rival magician Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) by drowning him in a water tank during Angier's performance. At this time, the magician in the first scene is Angier's ingénieur (the designer of Angier's illusions), John Cutter. Borden is convicted and sentenced to death based, in part, on Cutter's testimony.
The film then flashes further back to the beginning of both Angier's and Borden's careers as shills for "Milton the Magician" with Cutter acting as Milton's ingénieur and Angier's wife, Julia (Piper Perabo) as Milton's assistant. Angier and Borden attend a performance of a seemingly elderly Chinese magician who is able to make a large fishbowl appear seemingly from nothing. When they observe the Chinese magician entering his carriage after the performance, Borden realizes that the man's frailty is in fact the "true" act: He has spent his entire career pretending to be a cripple so that no one will realize he is actually strong enough to carry a fishbowl full of water between his legs concealed beneath his robe during the performance and no one will find the shuffling gait required to pull off this illusion to be out of the ordinary. Borden comments how a really great magic trick requires such commitment and sacrifice.
Julia drowns in a tank during a performance of the Chinese water torture trick. Angier blames Borden for his wife's death when Borden claims he cannot recall if he had tied her hands with a knot she could not release. The two go on to launch separate careers. Borden becomes "The Professor" with the enigmatic Bernard Fallon as his ingénieur while Angier becomes "The Great Danton" with new love Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) and Cutter as his ingénieur. Borden meets and marries a woman named Sarah and they have a daughter, Jess. Angier is further incensed to see Borden enjoying the happiness of family life which he believes Borden "stole" from him when he killed Julia. The reality of their marriage, however unsettles Sarah who senses a strange duality in her husband. Sometimes, he is the man she married, who truly loves her. At other times, he is emotionally distant and seems to be a completely different person. Borden's refusal to explain this duality leads Sarah to turn to drink.
Angier attempts to kill Borden by sabotaging Borden's bullet catch trick. Borden survives, but loses two of his fingers. Borden retaliates by sabotaging Angier's bird cage act, maiming an audience member, having his show expelled from the theatre and damaging Angier's reputation.
Soon afterward, Borden begins performing an impressive trick called The Transported Man, where he enters one cabinet and exits another across the stage, seemingly having been transported across the entire length of the stage in just one second. Cutter insists that Borden accomplishes this by using a double. Angier refuses to accept this, believing that Borden would never accept remaining below the stage (after vanishing through a trap door) while his double basked in the glory of the audience's applause. Unable to think of any other way to duplicate the trick, however, Angier begins using a double to perform The New Transported Man, but soon succumbs to the very frustration he believed Borden would not accept. Angier sends Olivia to discover Borden’s secret, but she instead grows close to Borden. Borden sabotages Angier on stage, crippling his leg, and begins performing The Original Transported Man with Olivia, allowing him to stage it more successfully.
Olivia gives Angier an encrypted diary which supposedly contains the secret to Borden's trick. Angier soon realizes the diary is a cypher which cannot be decoded without a key. Angier and Cutter kidnap Fallon to force Borden to give up the key. Upon learning that the key word is "Tesla", Angier becomes convinced that the brilliant but controversial inventor Nikola Tesla created a machine for Borden which actually teleports him across the stage. Angier invites Cutter to accompany him to meet Tesla and obtain the secret. But Cutter refuses, insisting that "obsession is a young man's game." Angier travels alone to Colorado Springs where Tesla lives in seclusion to conduct his unorthodox experiments. Angier enlists Tesla to make a copy of the teleportation machine that he believed Borden used. Angier deciphers Borden's diary and discovers it to be a fraud that Borden had Olivia give him and is further angered when the machine fails. However, he and Tesla soon discover that the machine actually works by creating an exact duplicate of whatever is placed inside it. After Tesla's rival Thomas Edison sends henchmen to torch his lab, Tesla leaves, warning Angier to destroy the machine. Meanwhile, Borden's pursuits drive Sarah to hang herself.
Angier returns to London, electrifying audiences with "The Real Transported Man", vanishing within the machine and reappearing in the back of the hall. In reality, his duplicate falls through a trap door and plunges into a water cell tank, drowning, while Angier reappears; the tanks are disposed of by blind stage hands every night. Borden witnesses Angier drown while slipping backstage to discover his secret but is caught and convicted of Angier's murder. In prison, Borden is visited by the agent of a Lord Caldlow, who offers to care for Jess in exchange for Borden's secrets. Borden reluctantly agrees for the sake of his daughter. But, when Lord Caldlow shows up with Jess in tow to collect the secret, Borden recognizes him as Angier, realizing that Angier orchestrated Borden's conviction. Angier rips up the papers on which Borden had written down the secret to his trick, insisting that he no longer needs them. Angier leaves with Jess, believing that he has achieved complete victory in his rivalry with Borden. Borden declares that he will return to exact revenge. Fallon visits Borden one last time where Borden tells him to "live for both of us." Before being hanged, Borden utters one last word: "Abracadabra".
Cutter learns that Caldlow has bought all of Angier's equipment, including the machine. He visits Lord Caldlow to plead for its destruction. He recognizes Angier, who had admitted earlier that he has always been Lord Caldlow (he had used the name Robert Angier to spare his family the embarrassment of his theatrical career). Cutter is disgusted with Angier for letting Borden hang and taking Borden's daughter.
One night, when Angier is in the theater's basement, Cutter lets in Fallon, who proceeds to shoot Angier. As he dies, Angier looks up and sees that Fallon is missing two fingers and has Borden's face. He realizes that Borden was really two identical twins; the one alive is named Alfred Borden and the one hanged was Freddy Borden. While one posed as Borden, the other put on a fake beard and glasses and assumed the identity of Fallon. After Angier shot off two of Alfred's fingers, Freddy had his two fingers cut off to maintain the illusion. Alfred loved Sarah while Freddy had a relationship with Olivia. Borden criticizes Angier for not understanding the true meaning of self-sacrifice and for killing his duplicate every night. In the end, Cutter, who has betrayed Angier, allows Borden to reunite with his daughter.
- Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier/The Great Danton/Lord Caldlow, an aristocratic magician. After reading the script, Jackman expressed interest in playing the part. Christopher Nolan discovered Jackman was interested in the script, and after meeting him, saw that Jackman possessed the qualities of stage showmanship that Nolan was looking for in the role of Angier. Nolan explained that Angier had a "wonderful understanding of the interaction between a performer and a live audience", a quality he believed that Jackman had. Nolan said that "[Jackman] has the great depth as an actor that hasn't really been explored. People haven't had the chance to really see what he can do as an actor, and this is a character that would let him do that." Jackman based his portrayal of Angier on 1950s-era American magician Channing Pollock. Jackman also portrays Gerald Root, an alcoholic double used for Angier's New Transported Man.
- Christian Bale as Alfred Borden/The Professor, a working class magician. Christian Bale expressed interest in playing the part, and was cast after Jackman. Although Nolan had previously cast Bale as Batman in Batman Begins, he did not consider Bale for the part of Borden until Bale contacted him about the script. Nolan said that Bale was "exactly right" for the part of Borden, and that it was "unthinkable" for anyone else to play the part. Nolan described Bale as "terrific to work with", who "takes what he does very, very seriously". Nolan suggested that the actors should not read the book, but Bale ignored his advice.
- Michael Caine as John Cutter, the stage engineer (ingenieur) who works with Angier and Borden. Caine had previously collaborated with Nolan and Bale in Batman Begins. Nolan said that even though it felt like the character of Cutter was written for Caine, it was not. Nolan noted that the character was written "before I'd ever met" Caine. Caine describes Cutter as "a teacher, a father and a guide to Angier". Caine, in trying to create Cutter's nuanced portrait, altered his voice and posture. Nolan later said that "Michael Caine’s character really becomes something of the heart of the film. He has a wonderful warmth and emotion to him that draws you into the story and allows you to have a point of view on these characters without judging them too harshly."
- Piper Perabo as Julia McCullough, Milton the Magician's assistant and Angier's wife.
- Rebecca Hall as Sarah Borden, Borden's wife. Hall had to relocate from North London to Los Angeles in order to shoot the film, although the film itself takes place in London. Hall said that she was "starstruck just to be involved in [the film]".
- Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe, Angier's assistant and lover. Nolan said that he was "very keen" for Johansson to play the role, and when he met with her to discuss it, "she just loved the character". Johansson praised Nolan's directing methods, saying that she "loved working with [him]"; he was "incredibly focused and driven and involved, and really involved in the performance in every aspect."
- David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, the real-life inventor who creates a teleportation device for Angier. For the role of Nikola Tesla, Nolan wanted someone who was not necessarily a film star, but was "extraordinarily charismatic". Nolan said that "David Bowie was really the only guy I had in mind to play Tesla because his function in the story is a small but very important role". Nolan contacted Bowie, who initially turned down the part. A lifelong fan, Nolan flew out to New York to pitch the role to Bowie in person, telling him no one else could possibly play the part; Bowie accepted after a few minutes.
- Andy Serkis as Mr. Alley, Tesla's assistant. Serkis said that he played his character with the belief that he was "once a corporation man who got excited by this maverick, Tesla, so jumped ship and went with the maverick". Serkis described his character as a "gatekeeper", a "conman", and "a mirror image of Michael Caine’s character". Serkis, a big fan of Bowie, said that he was enjoyable to work with, describing him as "very unassuming, very down to earth... very at ease with himself and funny."
- Ricky Jay as "Milton the Magician", an older magician Borden and Angier worked for at the beginning of the story. Jay and Michael Weber trained Jackman and Bale for their roles with brief instruction in various stage illusions. The magicians gave the actors limited information, allowing them to know enough to pull off a scene.
- Roger Rees as Owens, a solicitor working for Angier/Lord Caldlow.
- W. Morgan Sheppard as Merrit, a theater owner Angier initially plays for.
- Daniel Davis as the judge presiding over Borden's trial.
Julian Jarrold's and Sam Mendes' producer approached Christopher Priest for an adaptation of his novel The Prestige. Priest was impressed with Nolan's films Following and Memento, and subsequently, producer Valerie Dean brought the book to Nolan's attention. In October 2000, Nolan traveled to the United Kingdom to publicize Memento, as Newmarket Films was having difficulty finding a United States distributor. While in London, Nolan read Priest's book and shared the story with his brother while walking around in Highgate (a location later featured in the scene where Angier ransoms Borden's ingénieur in Highgate Cemetery). The development process for The Prestige began as a reversal of their earlier collaboration: Jonathan Nolan had pitched his initial story for Memento to his brother during a road trip.
A year later, the option on the book became available and was purchased by Aaron Ryder of Newmarket Films. In late 2001, Nolan became busy with the post-production of Insomnia, and asked his brother Jonathan to help work on the script. The writing process was a long collaboration between the Nolan brothers, occurring intermittently over a period of five years. In the script, the Nolans emphasized the magic of the story through the dramatic narrative, playing down the visual depiction of stage magic. The three-act screenplay was deliberately structured around the three elements of the film's illusion: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. "It took a long time to figure out how to achieve cinematic versions of the very literary devices that drive the intrigue of the story," Christopher Nolan told Variety: "The shifting points of view, the idea of journals within journals and stories within stories. Finding the cinematic equivalents of those literary devices was very complex." Although the film is thematically faithful to the novel, two major changes were made to the plot structure during the adaptation process: the novel's spiritualism subplot was removed, and the modern-day frame story was replaced with Borden's wait for the gallows. Priest approved of the adaptation, describing it as "an extraordinary and brilliant script, a fascinating adaptation of my novel."
In early 2003, Nolan planned to direct the film before the production of Batman Begins accelerated. Following the release of Batman Begins, Nolan started up the project again, negotiating with Bale and Jackman in October 2005. While the screenplay was still being written, production designer Nathan Crowley began the set design process in Nolan's garage, employing a "visual script" consisting of scale models, images, drawings, and notes. Jonathan and Christopher Nolan finished the final shooting draft on January 13, 2006, and began production three days later on January 16. Filming ended on April 9.
Crowley and his crew searched Los Angeles for almost seventy locations that resembled fin de siècle London. Jonathan Nolan visited Colorado Springs to research Nikola Tesla and based the electric bulb scene on actual experiments conducted by Tesla. Nathan Crowley helped design the scene for Tesla's invention; It was shot in the parking lot of the Mount Wilson Observatory. Influenced by a "Victorian modernist aesthetic," Crowley chose four locations in the Broadway theater district in downtown Los Angeles for the film's stage magic performances: the Los Angeles Theatre, the Palace Theatre, the Los Angeles Belasco, and the Tower Theatre. Crowley also turned a portion of the Universal back lot into Victorian London.
Nolan built only one set for the film, an "under-the-stage section that houses the machinery that makes the larger illusions work," preferring to simply dress various Los Angeles locations and sound stages to stand in for Colorado and Victorian England. In contrast to most period pieces, Nolan kept up the quick pace of production by shooting with handheld cameras, and refrained from using artificial lighting in some scenes, relying instead on natural light on location. Costume designer Joan Bergin chose attractive, modern Victorian fashions for Scarlett Johansson; cinematographer Wally Pfister captured the mood with soft earth tones as white and black colors provided background contrasts, bringing actors' faces to the foreground.
Editing, scoring and mixing finished on September 22, 2006.
The rivalry between Borden and Angier dominates the film. Obsession, secrecy, and sacrifice fuel the battle, as both magicians contribute their fair share to a deadly duel of one-upmanship, with disastrous results. Angier's obsession with beating Borden costs him a great deal of money and Cutter's friendship, while providing him with a collection of his own suicide victims; Borden's obsession with maintaining the secrecy of his twin leads Sarah to question their relationship eventually resulting in her suicide when she suspects the truth. Angier and one of the twins both lose Olivia's love because of their inhumanity. Finally, Borden is hanged and the last copy of Angier shot. Their struggle is also expressed through class warfare: Borden as The Professor, a working-class magician who gets his hands dirty, versus Angier as The Great Danton, a classy, elitist showman whose accent makes him appear American. Film critic Matt Brunson claimed that a complex theme of duality is exemplified by Angier and Borden, that the film chooses not to depict either magician as good or evil.
Angier's theft of Borden's teleportation illusion in the film echoes many real-world examples of stolen tricks among magicians. Outside the film, similar rivalries include magicians John Nevil Maskelyne and Harry Kellar's dispute over a levitation illusion. Gary Westfahl of Locus Online also notes a "new proclivity for mayhem" in the film over the novel, citing the murder/suicide disposition of Angier's duplicates and intensified violent acts of revenge and counter-revenge. This "relates to a more general alteration in the events and tone of the film" rather than significantly changing the underlying themes.
Nor is this cutthroat competition limited to prestidigitation: engineering "wizards" Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison engaged in a rivalry over electric current, which appears in the film in parallel to Borden and Angier's competition for magical supremacy. In the book, Tesla and Edison serve as foils for Borden and Angier, respectively.
Den Shewman of Creative Screenwriting says the film asks how far one would go to devote oneself to an art. The character of Chung Ling Soo, according to Shewman, is a metaphor for this theme. Film critic Alex Manugian refers to this theme as the "meaning of commitment." For example, Soo's pretense of being slow and feeble misdirects his audience from noticing the physical strength required to perform the goldfish bowl trick, but the cost of maintaining this illusion is the sacrifice of individuality: Soo's true appearance and freedom to act naturally are consciously suppressed in his ceaseless dedication to the art of magic.
Angier's technological solution—which suggests art as sacrifice, a phoenix-like death of the self—and Borden's more meat-and-potatoes form of stagecraft embody the divide between the artist and the social being.
For Manugian the central theme is "obsession," but he also notes the supporting themes of the "nature of deceit" and "science as magic." Manugian criticizes the Nolans for trying to "ram too many themes into the story."
Touchstone Pictures opted to move the release date up a week, from the original October 27, to October 20, 2006. The film earned $14.8 million on opening weekend in the United States, debuting at #1. It grossed $109 million, including $53 million from the United States. The film received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Nathan Crowley and Julie Ochipinti) and the Academy Award for Best Cinematography Wally Pfister, as well as a nomination for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form in 2007. Along with The Illusionist and Scoop (also starring Jackman and Johansson), The Prestige was one of three films in 2006 to explore the world of stage magicians.
The Prestige received very positive reviews from film critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 76% of critics gave the film positive reviews, with an average score of 7.1/10, based upon a sample of 179 reviews. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 66, based on 36 reviews. Claudia Puig of USA Today described the film as "one of the most innovative, twisting, turning art films of the past decade." Drew McWeeny gave the film a glowing review, saying it demands repeat viewing, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone agreeing. Richard Roeper and guest critic A.O. Scott gave the film a "two thumbs up" rating. Todd Gilchrist of IGN applauded the performances of Bale and Jackman whilst praising Nolan for making "this complex story as easily understandable and effective as he made the outwardly straightforward comic book adaptation (Batman Begins) dense and sophisticated... any truly great performance is almost as much showmanship as it is actual talent, and Nolan possesses both in spades." CNN.com and Village Voice film critic Tom Charity listed it amongst his best films of 2006. Philip French of The Observer recommended the film, comparing the rivalry between the two main characters to that of Mozart and Salieri in the highly acclaimed Amadeus.
On the other hand, Dennis Harvey of Variety criticized the film as gimmicky, though he felt the cast did well in underwritten roles. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter felt that characters "...are little more than sketches. Remove their obsessions, and the two magicians have little personality." Nonetheless, the two reviewers praised David Bowie as Tesla, as well as the production values and cinematography. On a simpler note, Emanuel Levy has said: "Whether viewers perceive The Prestige as intricately complex or just unnecessarily complicated would depend to a large degree on their willingness to suspend disbelief for two hours." He gave the film a B grade.
Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, describing the revelation at the end a "fundamental flaw" and a "cheat." He wrote, "The pledge of Nolan's The Prestige is that the film, having been metaphorically sawed in two, will be restored; it fails when it cheats, as, for example, if the whole woman produced on the stage were not the same one so unfortunately cut in two." R.J. Carter of The Trades felt, "I love a good science fiction story; just tell me in advance." He gave the film a B-. Christopher Priest, who wrote the novel the film is based on, saw it three times as of January 5, 2007, and his reaction was "'Well, holy shit.' I was thinking, 'God, I like that,' and 'Oh, I wish I'd thought of that.'"
In 2009, The A.V. Club included The Prestige in their best films of the decade list. The film was included in American Cinematographer's "Best-Shot Film of 1998-2008" list, ranking at 37. More than 17,000 people around the world participated in the final vote. As with much of Nolan's work, The Prestige is also widely popular among the general public; the film holds an average rating of 8.5/10 on IMDb, which renders it #51 on the site's list of the highest scoring movies ever released.
|The Prestige: Original Score|
|Soundtrack album by David Julyan|
|Released||October 17, 2006|
|David Julyan chronology|
The film score was written by English musician and composer David Julyan. Julyan had previously collaborated with director Christopher Nolan on Following, Memento and Insomnia. Following the film's narrative, the soundtrack had three sections: the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige.
All music composed by David Julyan.
|1.||"Are You Watching Closely?"||1:51|
|3.||"The Light Field"||1:50|
|4.||"Borden Meets Sarah"||2:11|
|5.||"Adagio for Julia"||2:03|
|6.||"A New Trick"||4:29|
|8.||"The Transported Man"||2:36|
|9.||"No, Not Today"||2:31|
|12.||"The Real Transported Man"||2:28|
|13.||"Man's Reach Exceeds His Imagination"||2:08|
|14.||"Goodbye to Jess"||2:53|
|16.||"The Price of a Good Trick"||5:05|
Some critics were disappointed with the score, acknowledging that while it worked within the context of the film, it was not enjoyable by itself. Jonathan Jarry of SoundtrackNet described the score as "merely functional," establishing the atmosphere of dread but never taking over. Although the reviewer was interested with the score's notion, Jarry found the execution was "extremely disappointing."
Christopher Coleman of Tracksounds felt that though it was "...a perfectly fitting score," it was completely overwhelmed by the film, and totally unnoticed at times. Christian Clemmensen of Filmtracks recommended the soundtrack for those who enjoyed Julyan's work on the film, and noted that it was not for those who expected "any semblance of intellect or enchantment in the score to match the story of the film." Clemmensen called the score lifeless, "constructed on a bed of simplistic string chords and dull electronic soundscapes."
The Region 1 disc is by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and was released on February 20, 2007, and is available on DVD and BD formats. The Warner Bros. Region 2 DVD was released on March 12, 2007. It is also available in both BD and regionless HD DVD in Europe (before HD DVD was cancelled). Special features are minimal, with the documentary Director's Notebook: The Prestige – Five Making-of Featurettes, running roughly twenty minutes combined, an art gallery and the trailer. Nolan did not contribute to a commentary as he felt the film primarily relied on an audience's reaction and did not want to remove the mystery from the story.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Prestige (film)|
- The Prestige at the Internet Movie Database
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- The Prestige script at DailyScript.com