Christopher Nolan's directorial; "The Prestige" has almost everything you can think of about a movie on magic and magicians....the Prestige. We are informed at the outset, by Michael Caine that every magical trick comprises of three acts:
(1) The Pledge, in which an apparently real situation is set up, (2) The Turn, in which the magician challenges the initial reality and (3) The Prestige, where all is set right again. An example, (not used in the film) would be (1) a woman, and it's usually always a woman, who is placed into a box; (2) the box is sawed in half, and the two halves separated, and (3) magically, the "victim" is restored in one piece.
In Christopher Nolan's, "The Prestige" the plot is metaphorically sawed in two, and is promised to be restored; it fails when it cheats. The movie doesn't offers a "prestige", it being a different genre of art can be regarded as an excuse for this flaw.
Other than this fundamental flaw, which leads to some impassable revelations towards the end, this is an extremely well shot movie, with a diversity of contemporary themes -- atmospheric, obsessive.........and almost satanic.
The plot is framed in and around Victorian London, at a time and place where séances and black magic were believed in by the naive. The movie reflects the idea of Somerset Maugham's fictional character, AleisterCrawley, in his popular novel, The Magician, "the most evil man in the world," who creates an image of a occult black magician and a practitioner of satanic forces. He had a gift of charm for swaying women to materialize in his bed. In the present day scenario, when most of us are not superstitious, the technical trickery of David Copperfield impresses us more than black magic. We see the trick done, but never for a moment believe that it is actually happening.
Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are two apprentice magicians, who assist their master, Milton the Magician (Ricky Jay) in his tricks as fake "volunteers" from the audience. They tie up a helpless damsel, Julia (Piper Perabo), who is in reality Robert's wife, and lower her into the Chinese Water-Torture box. Obscured by drapes, she somehow escapes every time, but one night, Alfred tied the knots too tightly and she couldn't escape, by the time the backstage manager (Michael Caine) breaks the glass with an axe, it is too late and she dies of drowning.
This is the beginning of lifelong hatred between Robert and Alfred, during which the frigid and ominous Robert attains the epitome of popularity while the hapless Alfred falls to the bottom and is struggling for fame. Alfred devices an illusion where he throws a ball on the stage and goes in one cupboard at one corner of the stage and while the ball is still bouncing he emerges from another cupboard at another corner of the stage. Something which was physically impossible. He named it "the Transported Man". Robert becomes obsessed with finding the secret of this trick.
Robert with his new assistant Olivia (Scarlett Johansson) presents an illusion named the same (The Transported Man), in which he throws a hat, walks into a door on one side of the stage and instantly emerges from a door at the other end and catches it. Alfred hacks his trick publicly and defames him. Robert's obsession grows and his inability to find the secret of Alfred's trick drives him crazy. In his obsession he kidnaps Alfred's manager and trades him for the trick. Alfred cheats him and misguides him to Tesla. He treks lame into the snows of Colorado to visit the hidden laboratory of the (real-life) Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). Tesla, the inventor /discoverer of alternating current, was regarded as "a wizard" who was capable of any wonder with his genie, Electricity. How could AC, or even DC, explain the Transported Man?
Well it does in the movie. Tesla invents a device which replicates things and even living beings.
The Prestige is the story of two magicians who are so obsessed magic that they lose trace of all human virtues and their obsession almost makes them satanic. They trade their lives, their love, their family and their humanity for the sake of magic. They trade their souls to fulfill their obsession and in turn are doomed to isolation, desolation and destruction.The Prestige of the story is lost in their rivalry. Virtue disappears in the dense myth of their obsession which ultimately leads to destruction. The movie sends an apocalyptic signal and establishes a verdict that all those who play with the laws of Nature will be damned.........