Are you watching closely?
We're told that each magic trick has three acts:
The Pledge: The magician shows you something ordinary, which of course probably isn't.The Prestige details the bitter rivalry between two Victorian-era magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The impetus for the rivalry is the death of Angier's wife (Piper Perabo), a magician's lovely assistant, when a water tank trick goes awry. Which knot did Borden tie? Each magician attends the other's shows to screw up their rival's act the way only another magician could. Fingers are lost, blood is shed - it gets pretty nasty.
The film itself parallels the acts of a magic trick, not surprisingly. The Pledge is all setup; the Turn had me looking hard for the secret, seeing several possibilities; and the Prestige, while it honestly didn't surprise me much at all, did reveal the passion and commitment of these magicians to their craft. Director Christopher Nolan isn't hoping to give us a big twist; mostly we are in on the tricks throughout.
What I enjoyed most about The Prestige, especially in light of Neil Burger's recent The Illusionist, is they didn't cheat on any of the magic tricks (except maybe a bit on the one Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) helped with). The Prestige requires a lesser portion of suspended disbelief than does The Illusionist. The atmosphere of The Prestige is wonderful - stages are lit with lanterns, streets are plastered with playbills, and the mechanics of the magic tricks fit the level of technology (again, maybe not with Tesla, but who knows?).
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