Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Prestige

"Nobody cares about the man in the box."

The Prestige is a fairly complicated movie, not for plopping down in front of and letting it wash over you. It has earned the tag "too complicated" a few times, but I loved having something intricate to actually pay attention to and leaves me still able to remember what happened a month later, which is now.

In an intricate story, the true nature of self sacrifice is explored as the rivalry between two magicians, one time partners, finally reaches its calamitous ending. It is quite amazing to watch as the pieces of the story fall into place.

But with all that, is there ever a time when just a little too much is asked for the suspension of disbelief? For me, there was one sticking point. It is still highly recommended.

Spoilers nearly on the level with telling the ending of The Sixth Sense follow! You have been warned!

click for spoilers

This move focuses on the realities of magic, not the illusion. The background is dirty, the foreground is gritty and poor, birds die for the illusion of vanishing, and occasionally there is a human toll. In one scene, children are delighted by a magician while the sharp eyed child is horrified. In this movie, you are made to be the sharp eyed kid and see the part which is not pleasant.

It is into this hyper-reality that we introduce, by the character of the real person Nikola Tesla, (a man who brought such pittances as alternating current and radio into the world, as well as, yes, the Tesla coil,) the doubling machine. It is supposed to be a transporter, which is unfortunately something Tesla really did work on, but sometimes "reality" is harsh.

Now, we are asked to believe in transporters from time to time. Mostly in space opera where a teleporter manages to "beam" a bunch of men, and sometimes a woman, to the surface of a planet far below with such accuracy that the men neither fall slightly as they land or have their boots fused to the ground below. It is just one more absurdity in an otherwise unreal world. I've even seen this sort of doubling machine as transporter. I don't recall now what book/story, but I remember that it was used as the means to cross the spaces between stars and since, for whatever reason, you can't allow two of the same people to be running around the universe, the original was flash burned. But this is a movie that is otherwise making an effort to be firmly stuck in a world where the laws of physics are, well, laws.

So we have a doubling machine. For better or for worse. After that I just want to hit the character using it. He says he would be so scared every night wondering if he would be the prestige, or the man in the box. Dude, it's a perfect doubling machine. It is a mathematical certainty that you'll be both. Once the doubled man exists, it is "you" and experiences, with mathematical certainty, the crowd applauding. With the same mathematical certainty, you've dropped yourself in a box of water and experienced drowning. However, since that doesn't last very long, the man who continues on never has to actually experience it.

That's the whole point, though. The nature of true self sacrifice. He believes himself to be sacrificing greatly when he has actually sacrificed nothing. There is always a prestige in his trick and it is always him. Meanwhile, his trick has some collateral damage that leads to us seeing what true sacrifices have been made in the name of a teleportation trick.

Though one has to wonder how he managed not to appear at the end of the trick the one time his original was found drowning... probably noticed the man who went into the wings instead of back into the audience. Still an incredible movie.

No comments: