If Christopher Nolan's stuffy new movie The
Prestige is trying to capture the sensation of being in
a magic shop, he's done a hell of a job. This movie is a hell
of a lot like being stuck in a small, cluttered room with smug-yet-insecure
freaks. The only things missing are the body odor and the fat,
bearded pedophilic-looking dude who owns the joint and eats
buttered bread behind the counter, greasily pawing all the playing
cards and packets of flash paper he touches.
Magic shops are odd. It's not because of the
hocus-pocus shit; it's because of the kind of people who hang
out in them. They're self-absorbed social misfits who use magic
to compensate for their shortcomings and live in an insulated,
little world where they're always at odds with each other and
yet only able to acknowledge the world they and their nemeses
have created. In that world, magic actually matters.
All I'm saying is these jerks can really hurt
your feelings. So, don't go into one if you're the best magician
at your local tavern and you can make a whole plate of nachos
disappear. Just, here one second and then... gone! Where
did it go? I don't know! Don't talk to the magic shop freaks
to share your secrets because they think it's beneath them to
sit silently while hot cheese drips down the inside of their
pants all night for the sake of the art. They're too damn busy
trying to find a girl to cut in half.
I'm not bitter, though. Fuck bitterness. I didn't
want to be in their little magic club anyway, because I made
up my own club called Super Magic Club, and they can't be in
it. You know why? Because they don't know how to do Super Magic.
All they know how to do is wank each other under the table and
make coins come out of infirmed children's ears.
The Prestige at least gets the insularity
of the magic shop world correct. That's too bad, though, since
it's such a miserable place to be for two-plus hours. Theaudience
is stuck with the high-collared turn-of-the-century equivalent
of today's wannabe magicians, watching them be assholes and
obsess over intricate details that just don't mean much to anyone
else. They take more pride in taking pride in their craft than
they do in actually being relevant.
The story's magicians are Christian Bale and
Hugh Jackman, who look nothing like any of the prestidigitators
I met, unless they gained 100 pounds each and spent way, way
less time in the sun and way more time in whatever was the Victorian-era
equivalent of Internet chat rooms. That would be, what, opium
dens without opium? Or girls?
Apparently magic tricks have three parts, just
like just about every other fucking popular entertainment in
the world. The first part is the set-up, or pledge, where the
magician vows to do something incredible with an ordinary object.
"I'm going to make this plate of nachos disappear!" The second
part is the turn, where whatever is pledged is done. "Presto!
Where'd the nachos go?" The third is the Prestige, where the
magician tops the turn by making the object reappear or have
something even more mysterious happen. "Those nachos are now
dripping into my sock! Taa daa!" The movie The Prestige
is so damn impressed with them that it rarely gives a shit about
Jackman and Bale are aspiring magicians who
start out their careers as friends and apprentices to Ricky
Jay. Jackman's wife is Jay's lovely assistant, who Bale accidentally
kills during a water-escape stunt. What follows is a single-minded
obsession by the two men to destroy each other's career and
be declared the best in the world. They shoot each other, catch
each other's hands in traps, steal each other's diaries and
sabotage each other's magic shows.
That's about it, really. Two self-absorbed magicians
trying to one up each other. Somehow, and illogically, the movie
takes one of them to meet Nikola Tesla (David Bowie!), father
of alternating current electricity. This side-trip, I think,
is meant to show a parallel between two magicians' rivalry and
that between Tesla and Thomas Edison. Any message between the
miracle of science in the golden age and magicians is completely
muddled and lost. The other movie role of Bowie's Tesla is to
invent a scientific device to do the job of magic. Jackman is
obsessed with one of Bale's tricks but can't figure out how
it is done. Bale sends him on a wild goose chase to Colorado
Springs and Tesla's workshop.
It's a big fucking blunder in The Prestige,
probably worse than the Harelip having her sixth kid with that
trash man, but not quite as bad as the seventh one she made
with the Raelians. The Prestige is a movie about men
trying to create the ultimate illusions and pass them off as
magic. It goes to great lengths to remind us that magic isn't
real by showing us in pornographic detail all of the mechanisms.
Then, when it needs a plot device it just says, "Ah, fuck it"
and hands the job of impossibility to a scientist.
Bowie's Tesla easily invents a cloning device.
Jackman uses it to clone himself for a stage trick (he murders
the original in the process so there is still only one of him).
This nonsense requires a suspension of disbelief bigger than
those Mrs. Filthy generously grants me at three a.m. on a Saturday
morning. It also requires the audience to be fucking idiots.
"Oh, okay, Telsa invented a cloning device. Sure. And he gave
it to a magician. And we're supposed to forget before the movie
ends that it's a cloning device so the final twist is a surprise."
Maybe some people would if it weren't foreshadowed a dozen times
in words and images.
That horseshit isn't what makes The Prestige
damn near unwatchable, though. What does is how fucking boring
and obsessed Jackman and Bale's characters are. They don't give
a fuck about anything but magic and their rivalry. They are
never given other depth or personality. Neither is charming
or witty. The movie just uses them as pawns in its own increasingly
complex parlor tricks. The tricks trump all, and the movie feels
like it's another M. Night Shyamalan turd meant to surprise
way more than entertain.
Scarlett Johannson is completely underused as
a woman who sleeps with both of them. She's a bit slutty; that's
an angle I'd like to explore more. Michael Caine is the magic
trick creator stuck between Bale and Jackman. He has to do a
lot of lifting since he's the only main character with any sort
The movie is also a big, fancy, Oscar-looking
movie with everyone is period costume, speaking against their
accents and looking super-fucking serious. There are jail scenes,
court scenes, lots of well-placed dirt and grime. And way too
much damn trickiness getting in the way of telling a proper
story. It's too long and too stuffy to ever be much fun.
Two Fingers for The Prestige.
I know you're thinking it's because I'm bitter I'm not a magician,
maybe a street magician like that fucking weirdo David Blaine,
world famous for making nachos, tacos, hot dogs and coffee disappear
down my pants. I'm not, though. If I were I'd give it one.