The Prestige, adapted from an award winning novel of the same name by Christopher Priest, is an intricate tale of passion, intrigue, deceit and obsession about two illusionists, whose morbid covetousness for absolute supremacy in their profession engenders a fierce rivalry that turns internecine and ultimately consumes them. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) at the start of their careers are highly ambitious young men assisting an elderly illusionist named Milton. Borden's incessant longing for innovation leads to the accidental death of Angier's wife. Borden marries Sarah and his apparent happiness further aggravates the sense of revulsion in Angier's heart. Angier's vindictive intervention during a bullet catch trick causes Borden to lose his two fingers. Though these events sowed the seeds of implacable hatred, but it is the unremitting yearning of their perpetually insatiable egos to outperform each other that eventually drives them to perdition.
Angier starts performing with the sobriquet "The Great Danton" with Cutter (Michael Caine) as his illusion engineer, while Borden with the stage name "The Professor" with Fellon as his engineer. Angier is an adept showman, but lacks the technical prowess. On the contrary, Borden is highly skillful, but lacks the taste for grandeur and showmanship. Each regards the other as his only obstacle (owing to their bitterly intertwined past) and this starts a series of events in which each tries to stymie the other by any means possible (sabotage, abduction, incrimination and even killings). Awed by the apparent genuineness of Borden's version of "The Transported Man" and inveigled by Borden's deliberate misdirection, Angier travels miles and spends a fortune to approach an ingenious scientist named Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) in order to cajole him into building a machine for him (a machine that could help him outperform Borden). Nikola Tesla is an apostle of Alternating Current (and rightly thinks it to be superior to Direct Current), and is under immense pressure imparted by Thomas Edison (ruthless advocator of Direct Current) and his men, who are after Tesla. As Edison's men close in on him, Tesla runs out of time and hence funds for his research and is forced to oblige Angier, who is his very last client. Tesla flees the scene shortly after fulfilling his promise to Angier (not without leaving him a strong note of caution against the use of his invention), whose ever increasing skepticism in Tesla is placated by the efficacy of his masterful invention. Using Tesla's machine, Angier introduces his own version of "The Transported Man", which becomes an instant success, but in lieu of a terrible self-sacrifice (that Angier has to make every night while performing). As the story culminates, the viewer is startled with many revelations including the mental and physical torments that Borden's complex character undergoes owing to his total devotion towards his art.
The success of an act of illusion solely depends upon the deftness with which its three parts viz. the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige are performed. Similarly, for a movie to be a success, its three main aspects i.e. screenplay, direction, and acting are ought to be top-notch. Christopher Nolan incredibly manages to strike all the right cords with The Prestige. His riveting maneuvers coupled with his ingenious auteur skills aggrandize the brilliance of the movie ten-fold. Nolan succeeds in having a dream assemblage of actors with almost everyone giving a memorable performance. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are superb in their lead roles. Michael Caine shines in his low-key portrayal of Cutter, an ordinary part made to appear extraordinary through sheer brilliance; vintage Caine. David Bowie as Nikola Tesla and Andy Serkis (Gollum of LOTR) as Alley (Tesla's assistant) are stupendous in their cameos. Scarlet Johansson also manages to give a scintillating portrayal as Borden's paramour, Olivia.
The movie is a roller-coaster of a ride with intriguingly intertwined subplots and masterful time switching, which makes it one of a kind and an ultimate masterpiece. The uncanny feat of Nolan to manifest a motion picture, which forays the realms of Mystery, Thrill, Sci-fi and Fantasy, is truly exemplary and makes the movie a contemporary classic. The movie is a tapestry of twists and turns, which evinces its overwhelming potential to bewitch the masses and satiate even the most esoteric viewers. The questions that it incessantly asks of the viewers can only be answered after repetitive viewings, with each viewing seeking utmost attention of the viewer. The only question that I would ask of the viewer is: "Are you watching closely?"
A must watch for anyone, who has nothing against giving his mind a rigorous exercise and his body an adrenaline rush. 10/10
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