Everyone has heard that a good magician never reveals a secret. In The Prestige, a young enthusiast learns from an old hand the reason for this rule. "No one respects you for a secret, no matter how good it is," the magician explains. "It's what you can do with the secret that they respect you for."
Ah, but it's different at the movies. For a filmmaker, a good secret revealed in the right way at the right moment can be the highlight of the act. Like a magician, the filmmaker can use misdirection to get the audience looking the other way, in order to make the climax as surprising as possible. But where the magician wants to leave the audience mystified, the filmmaker seeks to pull all the pieces together.
Adapted by director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan from the Christopher Priest novel, The Prestige has a number of secrets, cleverly wrought and carefully structured in an escalating series of dramatic revelations that may need multiple viewings to fully unravel. Tightly plotted and thematically well-crafted, the film offers converging lessons regarding seemingly harmless illusions that belie grim realities, charades that must be maintained off the stage as well as on, and the hazards of an all-important secret confederate, all coming together in climactic plot twists both haunting and unsettling.
At the same time, underlying the whole story is a central conceit that—while undeniably integral to the tale the film has to tell—may seem somewhat jarring amid the movie's 19th-century trappings of escape-artist water tanks, collapsible bird cages, hidden trapdoors, and the like. Granted its premise, The Prestige is ruthlessly bold and clever regarding the implications and consequences for its antagonists, ...1
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