Sleepovers in high school meant three things: one, no oppressive “fascist” parents. Two, a disgusting orgy of msg-dusted tortilla chips and hyper-caffeinated soft drinks. And three, a movie to end the festivities, typically one I hadn’t seen before. I first saw The Prestige at one of these sleepovers, seated in a hard plastic chair in a Middle TN basement. I’d seen Inception before, but this was only my second exposure to the cinematic mastermind that is Christopher Nolan.
The sheer glow of the flatscreen in the otherwise pitch-black room combined with the caffeine and sugar concoction brewing in my stomach shrunk my eyes to a comical speck. As the Touchstone logo flashed, it was accompanied by the “hushes” of cracking voices, and the supersonic rustling of aluminum snack bags.
“Pay attention,” said Caleb, my buddy whose house we were at.
The room became dead silent, and the faint ringing of the last six hours of conversation filled the void left between opening logos and the actual movie’s beginning. The screen lit up, and a tracking shot revealed a forest in autumn or winter, dozens of top hats and a couple cats littering the floor.
“Are you watching closely?” asked the hushed tone of Christian Bale, as the screen cut to black.
I tried not to blink for the next 140 minutes. The first hook in most Nolan films presents an idea of the unknown. He’ll begin with a strange shot of something from later in the film, often from the denouement, right before or during some major plot twist.
Memento is in an abnormal chronological order, so the viewer has no idea what’s going on, akin to a magician dazzling the audience with fluff that seems only to distract, but is in fact the whole trick. Inception has the same sort of vagueness present throughout, from the confusion of multiple layers of dreams, to the tokens, and even the rules of the dream world. The Prestige starts with the “Edgar-Allen-Poe-esque” shot mentioned above and the shot isn’t resolved until near the end of the film, making it all the more incredible when the movie eventually comes full circle.
I revere Nolan as one of the greatest directors of all time, but I’m not so blinded as to think that he is the best conversation writer or character writer. His plots and ideas are superb, but his dialogue and characters are often stale or two-dimensional. However, the characters in The Prestige are all motivated in such emotional ways that the viewer connects with nearly each and every one at certain points.
We see loved ones die and cry. We see revenge, and feel justified. We see cruelty, and hate. Nolan incorporates pathos in The Prestige better than in any other movie he has made, and it enhances the film. In addition to the general sense of mystery in The Prestige, the characters themselves change every time you watch the movie. Many characters, such as Nikola Tesla (portrayed by David Bowie) are not even understood the first watch-through.
I watched the movie the first time, and was cheering for one of the main characters. After the movie, I had an entirely new understanding of the film, and could more fully appreciate the characters the second time I watched it. I didn’t even pay attention to some characters the first time through, but these minor characters played a larger role than I had expected, and they became pivotal points on later watch-throughs.
Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a fantastic movie and a modern work of art. My roommates and I watch the film once a semester, and I’m sure I’ll see yet another hidden treasure in the plot, the shots, or the ideas in the film this spring. Every time I watch it I pick up new bits of dramatic irony, foreshadowing, and amazing narrative parallels that I have never seen before.
Although the plot, character development, cinematography, and sense of mystery all contribute to its magnificence, the real beauty in Nolan’s film is its recyclability. I’ve seen The Prestige about 20 times since that night, and every time, it affects me in a different way. I have had several intense conversations about the last two seconds of the movie alone, and almost every scene can be dissected in this same way, allowing for a plethora of interpretations.
Back in the Nashville basement, as the movie began to come to a close, I got a terrible, dense feeling in the pit of my stomach. David Julyan’s score grew louder, Nolan’s shots got faster and more broken, and my heart rate began to rise. When the very last plot twist occurred, I stood up and yelled at the screen, feeling as though my world had been shattered. I sat down to watch the end of the film, my whole body buzzing in disbelief, and my mouth literally hanging open.
“Goodnight guys” said Caleb, going up to his room, and leaving us to fend for ourselves with spare blankets and pillows as the credits began to roll.
I walked over to a couch, still stunned, and couldn’t fall asleep for several hours, thinking of the genius which I had just witnessed. You may not have much time this semester for movies. I know I don’t. You and I both know, however, that you will have one afternoon or evening when you find yourself with no homework, no test to study for, and no scholarships to apply for, and you’ll be bored. When this time strikes, watch The Prestige. You won’t regret it.