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Magic as a scapegoat for obsession

Megan Mowbray

The Prestige” is full of tricks, twists, and turns. Maybe it should have come out even closer to Halloween. Regardless, you get the treats, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, mixed in with the tricks. And man do they have a few.

Hopefully, the real-world magicians won’t be upset with the revealing of a few tried-and-true tricks by magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The two start off as apprentices hidden in the audience to aid a magician with his finale, where Angier’s wife is tied up and placed in a box full of water. The idea is that she can slip out of the knots, and reach through a hole at the top of the box to unlatch the box. When the curtain comes up, she is standing next to the box, dripping wet and smiling. However, when Borden’s ambition for a greater show leads him to tie a different knot, the curtain comes up and there is no Mrs. Angier smiling. Instead, she is fighting for her life.

Here begins the movie, and here begins the battle between Angier and Borden. The movie follows two parallels timeframes, the animosity building between the two after the tragic accident, and Angier’s final plan to win the battle the two have begun. The two timelines add up to the finale of the movie. In other words, the audience is stuck in a current time – turn-of-the-century London – waiting for the other two timelines to catch up before the movie can continue. Interesting approach, and at times confusing, but it matches the material of the movie well.

This is also one of those movies where the characters tell you what will happen, and who will do it, but only if you pay close enough attention. So unless you are supremely talented in reading symbols, signs, and themes, it’s kinda one of those you walk out of the theater and go, oh duh, why didn’t I see that coming. Which is a noteworthy sign that a movie is done well. This movie triumphs with the combination of a great story line, and the acting talents from Bale, Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, and of course, Michael Caine.

Johansson shows up as a new assistant, as well as a buffer between the two rival magicians. Caine is one of those rare actors who has never had a bad performance – it’s not in his repertoire. You could even argue that this movie is about him, he steals the scene so often. He opens and closes the film with an explanation of all magic tricks, which of course provides an outline for the film to follow. He tells, but more importantly shows, the audience both of the movie and in the movie, that nothing is as it seems and everything is convoluted. The reason the tricks and the movie work, is because the magicians distract your attention one way, and the trick lies in the other.

Besides being tricky, tricky, tricky, this movie is also incredibly sad. It highlights some aspects of the human condition that aren’t so pretty, and that a lot of people tend to ignore. All of these men are obsessed. Obsessed with a mission, a woman, a life – it doesn’t matter because they lose themselves in these obsessions. Even Tesla, the little cameo-like role played by David Bowie, who has nothing to do with the magic scene, has his obsessions.

Olivia (Johansson) acts as a measuring stick of sanity. She runs with them all, and realizes there are no men left there, just obsessions. She breaks free and is the only one in this movie who really wins.


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