The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige is a critically acclaimed 2006 film by Christopher Nolan, based on the 1995 Christopher Priest novel of the same name. 

The story follows the wealthy showman Robert Angier (played by Hugh Jackman) and a working-class magician Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale) , competitive masters of illusion at the turn of the 19th and 20th century London. With a lot of history between them, and both of them obsessed with devising the best trick, they embark on a relentless rivalry with tragic consequences.

The film is divided into three stories, each representing the three acts of a magic trick. The first is “The Pledge,” where the magician shows the audience something that seems ordinary, but probably does not lead the audience to the wrong conclusion. The second act is “The Turn” where the magician usually does something outlandish. Finally, the third act is called “Prestige” in which the effect of illusion is seen.

Alfred Borden and Robert Angier are two assistants to Milton the Magician, for whom John Cutter (played by Michael Caine), a theater engineer also works. During a trick, Angier’s wife drowns as she makes her way out of the water tank, and Angier suspects that Borden had her hands tied in the new knot she had suggested before – a knot more complicated than she was used to. This tragedy ultimately drives them apart, and once friends and colleagues, they become not just rivals, but bitter enemies. They keep trying to outsmart each other with each new trick, and expose the other one as a fraud to the audience, as the stakes become higher and higher, leading up to the ultimate trick that overshadows everything.

Angier travels to Colorado Springs to meet Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie) and learn the secret of Borden’s mindblowing and hugely popular trick. This is the first point at which the magic is implied to be not just the art of fraud and illusion, but a scientific process, complex enough to completely confuse those of us with less than rudimentary knowledge of it. In a way, Tesla and Edison, were after all the wizards of their time, and their rivalry paralleled that of Borden and Angier, which dominates the movie. Obsession, secrecy and sacrifice fuel their conflict. Angier’s obsession to outwit Borden stands in the way of Cutter’s friendship, while Borden’s obsession with keeping a secret results in his wife’s suicide. They fight for the love of Olivia (played by Scarlet Johansson), but they both show to be more dedicated to each other and their craft, than they do to other people.. Their struggle is also portrayed through the prism of class conflict, with the two of them having nothing in common but their strong commitment to their shared obsession. 

This movie with its amazing script, effects, costumes, and acting takes us straight to the heart of Victorian London. Themes of duality, secrecy, illusions, and obsession are presented in a non-linear fashion, which instantly turns every good movie into a good movie with high rewatch value, since it is impossible to catch all the subtle details on the first, or even first couple of viewings.