WickedEye's Quotient

10/21/2006 at 22:53

This is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance...

...and you see something shocking you've never seen before.
-Michael Caine as Cutter, in
The Prestige

Saw “The Prestige” today. What an incredible film.

I’ve always liked Christopher Nolan’s twisty, devious, sparklingly mordant mind. With my lifelong penchant for murder mysteries, he’s one of the only writers or directors who can keep me guessing (almost) all the way to the end.

The movie I just watched was so ravishingly, inimically incisive that I didn’t even know how I felt as I left. Too much was open- I’d no way to gauge everything it had exposed. Rather a sickening feeling, the raw air brushing against parts of me that had been mephitic and sealed for so long.

While I won’t give away the twist(s- it’s always plural with Nolan) of the movie, because I hope as many of you as possible see it, it’s about rival stage magicians: their rivalry, and the intertwined lives they lead. The sets are lavish; the production values are high; the movie is stunning to look at from first to last; but with Nolan those things always fade to insignificance. The show is about magic, and magicians, and what the former wreaks upon the latter, and though it is lovely to see it is not easy to watch.

One thing that has always amazed me, as a student of mythology and fairy tale, is how vaunted magic is in our society; it is not so exalted in other places, under other names. The grotesquerie, pain, terror- the incommensurate, unendurable price that humans pay for their dealings with it- is appalling. As I’ve pointed out to friends, many times, the tales of the Brothers Grimm are not for children. They are horrifying.

These men’s lives- their search for magic, for the pinnacle of illusion and thaumaturgy- is even more gruesome and dreadful than those antique tales from the black forests of time. And yet it is glittering and showy and threateningly, exhilaratingly beautiful as well. That struggle and its results- which, as always with Nolan, lie strewn, twisted and blank-eyed and blackened and bloodied, around the bodies of the contestants- are fearful, the more so because they are consummately understandable.

Those of us who worship at our chosen altars always want to stand before them alone and supreme, no matter how red are the hands that we raise to the heavens.

What does the magic we see- economic, technological- cost those who create it? Those around them? Are the pieces of ourselves so intertwined that we don’t know what parts to mourn when some of them die? What is the penalty of genius? Of achievement? Of real magic? Of disguising that magic when it happens?

Of disguising ourselves and our lives and our desires as we chase them down with tooth and claw?

It is impossible for me to say more, or more concretely, without giving away a part of the show. And the show is utterly brilliant and well worth seeing, and I will not say much more on this subject than two names: Nikola Tesla and David Bowie.

See the movie. Think about it. It may be frightening, and that may be (as I have said before) good for you- or, in this case, it may not.

But this magic show will force you to touch the reality of the difference between illusion and magic, between daydreams and dreams, between the freedom of imagination and the cost of achievement, for the space of its performance. And it’s worth being afraid to remember what that distance means.

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