What if an alien in the future stumbled upon Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige? Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
This week’s film:
The Prestige (2006)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, David Bowie, Andy Serkis
Director: Christopher Nolan
Production Co: Touchstone Pictures, Newmarket Films, Syncopy
Written by: Ben Steiner
Directed by: Jared Bauer
Analysis by: Kevin Winzer
Starring: Mark Schroeder (https://twitter.com/mark_schroeder)
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Produced by: Jacob S. Salamon and Emily Dunbar
The Prestige’s Hidden Meaning – Earthling Cinema
Greetings, and welcome to Earthling Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid This week’s artifact is The Prestige, starring Huey Lewis and the Newsie, and directed by neither of them. The film tells the story of Angier and Borden, two Earth shamans who become rivals over a simple misunderstanding about whether Angier’s wife should be alive or not. They take turns injuring each other’s frail mortal bodies and snooping in each other’s diaries for hot smut.
When Angier finds out Borden has a new incantation called The Trans Man, he becomes obsessed with finding out how it all works, without, you know, sticking his foot in his mouth. He tries using a double he conveniently finds wandering around ten feet outside the building, but the double soon finds he has more of a passion for trapeze. So Angier kidnaps Fallon, Borden’s assistant who never speaks and whose face we never see clearly, somehow without ever looking at his face or talking to him. Borden relents and gives him a clue: the Tesla Model 3. So Angier drives his affordable yet stylish electric car across the ocean to America to find Nicholas Tesla and bully him into building a transmogrification machine.
Angier successfully uses the machine and becomes the biggest hippo on campus, and that makes Borden a very sad hippo. A very sad hippo indeed. Michael Caine is in this movie, in case that wasn’t clear. Borden sneaks backstage to investigate, only to find Angier stupidly drowning in a water tank like some sort of non-amphibious mammal. Borden is arrested and found guilty by reason of proximity. Borden is murdered by the Earth government, and only after he’s fully choked out does Sir Michael find out the Pepsi Twist: Angier is still alive and kicking! With one of his feet at least. It seems Angier has been suiciding himself at the end of every performance, leaving behind a fresh-baked clone to live until the next one. Then, just as Angier is patting himself on the back, Borden shows up and performs his greatest trick: shooting him with a gun. Buy one Pepsi Twist, get the second for half price! Borden is actually two twin brothers who would trade off being Borden and Fallon, depending on who was having a better hair day. Angier bleeds out all his remaining blood, and Borden meets up with that double-crossing legend of stage and screen to retrieve his daughter, who is also part of this.
In The Prestige, shamanism is a metaphor for storytelling, which is a euphemism for talkies. At the start of the film, Cutter explains the structure of a magic trick. This progression also reflects the three act structure that comprises the bulk of Hollywood features — even Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Act One is the pledge. In the world of film, this translates to the introduction of characters and conflict, generally something to do with not having a date to dog prom. Act Two is the turn, which gets its name because Act One turns into Act Two. Act Two introduces complications, in this case the advent of Borden’s Trans Man trick, which ignites Angiers’ descent into non-binary open-mindedness. The turn culminates when Angiers activates the machine, and the audience is left wondering when Batman is going to show up.
Act Three is the prestige, which, coincidentally, is also the name of the film. This is when the story gathers the narrative threads and ties them into a neat little Bowflex, climaxing in a grand flourish. Significantly, this structure is explained by a man named “Cutter,” a term that references an editor’s role in piecing a film together. Too bad our editors are such pieces of – unwavering professionalism – who knows how to do his job.
Just as a shaman distracts us with techniques like needlessly vulgar imagery or a needlessly attractive assistant, the film diverts the audience from the twist even while dangling it right in front of our state-of-the-art ocular implants. The child guesses immediately that the birdcage trick used a twin. Cutter even comes right out and states it. But the audience is so dazzled by showmanship and the advent of electricity that we are still gobsmacked when Borden finally explains. All of which goes to prove Cutter’s theory — whether watching a magic trick or a movie or a donkey show, the audience wants to be fooled, swept away by the narrative, so that we may be wowed at the end. Because no one goes to a donkey show for the previews.
For Earthling Cinema, I’m Garyx Wormuloid. Presto disappearo!