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'The Prestige' - The Nolan Narrative

Updated on June 13, 2020
Spoilers included
Spoilers included

We have all watched nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat thrillers. But The Prestige isn't your run of the mill, methodical entertaining thriller. There is one thing that makes it stand out from others. It is a magician's act. And the magician is Christopher Edward Nolan.

Angier (played by Jackman) and Borden (played by Bale) are rival magicians in 19th century London, trying to one-up each other and will go to any length to prove themselves superior. This is a riveting tale of envy, obsession, and vengeance backed up by powerful but underrated performances from all the cast members.

Nolan and Bale on the sets of 'The Prestige'
Nolan and Bale on the sets of 'The Prestige'

The Nolan Narrative

Yes, the film has an ensemble cast; yes, Bale might have method-acted; yes, it is a two-hander film, pitting two of the biggest stars against each other; and yes, it stars Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson. But none of these are this film's main selling points. You have to watch it for the non-linear narrative, and how Nolan has exploited this narrative style to the fullest extent, just like in Memento, but differently.

"If you understand an obsession, then you know you won't change my mind"

The whole movie is about the two main characters' obsession with each other and how they are trying to find the other's tricks. Now I am getting into spoiler territory here, you've been warned. Bale's character has a twin brother, who is in the guise of his manager/assistant, Fallon. He is the key to Angier's troubles and the whole film, but is hidden in plain sight throughout the whole film!

It is just like the magicians' acts- they hire beautiful assistants(Scarlett's character) to divert the audience's attention from their trick. And here, Nolan the magician employs such a complex narrative to keep our attention away from the twin brother throughout the course of the film. And the use of the non-linear narrative is so different in this film- it's not used just to add another layer of complexity or for intriguing storytelling purposes; it diverts our attention from this character who is hiding in plain sight.

The narrative is incredibly knotty and intricate that it is so difficult to distinguish between the different timelines. Unlike The Irishman, where we have various cues such as age, settings, and emotions to distinguish between 3 different layers of this narrative, we don't have any such cues to differentiate between the different timelines this film switches among. We spend all our time and efforts trying to find which way is which and by the time all this coheres, it is time for the big reveal. And no, this isn't bad storytelling, it's complex storytelling used for a higher purpose.

The brilliance behind this is the amount of screen-time given to and the attention placed on Fallon, the twin character. Any more screen-time and attention, that would have made us suspicious and the film overly long as they would have had to build his past and character. Any less, again, that would have made us suspicious, wondering about this character who just came for a single scene and vanished. But no, it was perfect. Nothing more, nothing less and the narrative warps you in and takes care of the rest. It demands your full attention and doesn't let your focus spill here and there.

Tour de force

Honestly, I had no problem with this film.The Prestige's twisted narrative is backed up by wonderful performances that deserve more praise, especially that of Rebecca Hall's and Michael Caine's. Though they have lesser screen time, compared to other characters, their roles are of umpteen importance and require skill to deliver emotions and drama. Cinematography is brilliant, for which the film received a nomination at the 79th Academy Awards. It is a dark, gritty tale based on dark emotions executed to perfection and I simply loved it.

But still, critics don't hold this film in their highest regards- approval ratings of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes and 66% on Metacritic aren't that great. But why, though? The true worth and adroitness of this film can be comprehended well only after multiple viewings. I couldn't understand and evaluate the true brilliance of this film after a single viewing. It just becomes your usual Sunday night movie when viewed only once, when there is much more to it. Nolan has molded this story seamlessly into a gripping cinematic experience. People, it is officially time for a rewatch. Go. Watch It. Now.

© 2020 Abishek Soundararajan


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