The Prestige 2006 Dir. Christopher Nolan
The term “thriller” is often bestowed upon horror films as a way of saving them from the perceived trashiness of the genre. This could be said of projects like Hitchcock’s Psycho and Demme’s Silence of the Lambs. For some reason people can’t bare the thought of these “serious” pieces of cinema sharing the same creative space as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A mild argument with one of my wife’s coworkers over the notion that Perfume might be a horror film, indicates to me that names are important, and sometimes a spoon full of pretension helps the medicine go down. Don’t get me wrong, The Prestige has serious pedigree. The director, Christopher Nolan has crafted some of the most poignant and beautiful work film over the past decade, first making his name with the disjointed crime film Memento. The cast includes Michael Caine, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, not to mention a supporting role played by David Bowie. The film is also a lavish period drama, and an intricate mystery. All of this, and The Prestige is still a horror film.
Following the turn of the century exploits of Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, two magicians that begin as partners, but through tragedy turn bitter enemies. We see these men grow up together as performers in their craft. Angiers the showman, and Borden the innovator would make the perfect team, but both become obsessed with the art they practice, inevitably consumed by its secrets in the process. The Prestige is a film about obsessions, and the damage a singular vision can do to one’s life. The impetus for the film is Angier trying desperately to discover the secret of one of Borden’s illusions. After the death of his wife (for which he blames Borden) his career is all he has left. After exhausting every opportunity to dissect how the trick my be accomplished, he turns to a real magician, Mr. Nikola Tesla to make Borden’s teleportation illusion a reality.
It is this quest for knowledge, this obsession and ultimately the price paid that drives the horror of The Prestige. This story shares DNA with Frankenstein, and Perfume in that the main characters are questing for something sublime, but are corrupted in the process. There’s a fair bit of Lovecraft in this film too. The framing device of the story, as well as its revelations, hinges on the reading from diaries. Lovecraft, himself a prolific letter writer, often framed his own tales through diary entries and correspondence, giving the horrors a mundane credibility.
The Prestige itself is a brilliant illusion, a perfect mystery illuminating the lengths one might go to achieve their goals. The whole of the film feels like one is tugging at a piece of twine following it knot after knot, to its ultimate conclusion, only to realize that there’s a monster tied at the other end.