Movie Club: The Prestige

Dieser Beitrag wird zu einem Großteil auf Englisch verfasst sein. Ich bin Teil einer Online-Schreibgruppe und wir haben einen Movie Club eröffnet, in dem wir jeden Monat einen Film gucken und dazu eine Review schreiben. Denn, wie ich neuerdings gelernt habe, sind Frauen beim Reviewen von Filmen unterrepräsentiert. Deswegen und weil ich mich seit dem letzten Jahr sowieso vermehrt damit beschäftigt habe und mich darin üben wollte, werde ich jetzt ein Mal im Monat einen Film besprechen. Sobald die Besprechungen der anderen Teilnehmerinnen online sind, werde ich sie hier in meinem Beitrag verlinken, sodass potentielle Leser*innen sich ein multiperspektivisches Bild von dem jeweiligen Film machen können. (Links am Ende der Review.)

Außerdem gibt’s noch Lesehinweise, unter der Weiterlesen-Linie.

Spoilers for The Prestige

The Prestige is a movie about two magicians (the performance show kind, not the Gandalf kind) who start out as apprentices for the same magician and end up in a cycle of revenge and rivalry for the spot of „best magician“. The movie plays with the concepts of reality and illusions not only in the competition between Angier and Borden, but also as a movie itself. As a viewer, I was again and again fooled by the movie and therefore, proved the point. (More on that later.) I can only marvel at the complexity of the storyline with its time jumps and twists and turns at every corner because it all works and is a well thought through storyline (all my respect here!). I wanna highlight a few points about the movie that stood out to me and had my head turning for the rest of the night.

Let’s start with Borden and Angier. I liked the movie and was very fascinated by it. Despite the fact that the two protagonists, Angier and Borden, are two very unlikeable characters. During the movie, I was sometimes swayed in favor of one and then the other, and in the end leaned more towards Borden. After a good night’s sleep, I have to admit that I don’t really like any one of them. They are both morally ambiguous characters with shady agendas. I understand some of their actions, until a certain point. I understand that Angier is angry, upset and confused about the death of his wife, caused by Borden. I understand that he would want some kind of closure, or in his case revenge (which is a somewhat difficult topic for me, so let’s spare it here). I also understand that Borden feels wrongly accused because of his double nature, although this only made sense to me at the very end of the movie (with the last big reveal). I even understand their drive to be the best, or at least, be better than the other person. What I don’t understand is their recklessness with which they pursue it, harming many other people along the way. It ties in with a quote from the movie about following our obsessions who will, in the end, kill us. It is a good piece of foreshadowing and ushered as a warning to Angier who disregards it, eventually leading to his death. Same goes for Borden. He doesn’t hear the sentence in the movie, and it still applies to him and leads to his actual and metaphorical death. Angier and Borden push each other to extreme measures in their pursuit to surpass the other, eventually killing them both (in a way) and harming other people on the way. Olivia also speaks along the same lines when she tells Borden that he and Angier deserve each other which illuminates once more the obsession they hold for each other.

Apart from the fact that Angier and Borden are trying to surpass each other, I want to highlight their recklessness and disregard for other people. This is especially visible with the women in the movie. Angier’s wife, Julia, is the catalyst for the conflict between Borden and Angier and serves no other obvious purpose. The same goes for Sarah, Olivia and even Jess (Borden’s daughter whose name we only learn in the very end). The women in the movie seem to me like plot devices who serve as the men’s objects of desire. Julia dies in the first couple of minutes of the movie, fueling the conflict between Angier and Borden. Olivia and Sarah have little angency. Olivia moves from being Angier’s mistress to being Borden’s mistress and is disregarded by both. Angier sends her away to spy on Borden for him which turns her against him. This move makes her an important character in the plot, but she has no real life to herself. She is merely there to serve the conflict between the two men. In Borden’s life, Olivia competes against Sarah, Borden’s wife, and eventually leaves Borden after Sarah’s death because she is repulsed by his lack of caring. As Sarah, Olivia only uses her agency when she leaves Borden. Sarah is the most interesting of the women. She marries Borden and the two have a daughter, Jess. Sarah is the one who calls Borden out on his strange behaviour regularly and she actually seems to sense his secret. I am still undecided if she actually KNEW or what her version of the story would have been. Nevertheless, she knows something is wrong with Borden and she tries really hard to be with him until she uses her agency to commit suicide and therefore leave Borden and her daughter behind. All three women fuel the conflict between Angier and Borden, they’re objects of desire and a cause for envy and jealousy of the men who want to possess one or another of the women. Jess, Borden’s daughter, is actually mostly a piece on a chessboard that they circle around.

Furthermore, I want to point out that Borden’s relationship to Sarah and Olivia is actually quite abusive. Borden who is actually not one person but two (twin brothers) who „share a life“ as he puts it is in a relationship with Sarah and Olivia at the same time. As Borden explains later, one of the brothers is in love with Sarah while the other is in love with Olivia. It is actually the biggest reveal (for me) in the movie and one that explains most of Borden’s really werid behaviour previously. It is foreshadowed the whole time with Sarah being able to tell when Borden actually means the „I love you“s and when he doesn’t. Why is it an abusive relationship? Because neither Sarah nor Olivia consented to this relationship. Both think that Borden is ONE person while he is not and Borden at one point explains how the shared life was enough for him and his brother while it wasn’t for the two women. This is obvious to me because they never actually ASKED the women, so why would it be enough for them? They were clearly in this relationship for whole Borden, not a part of him. I am not sure if I would actually call it rape but there could be made a case for it because Borden deceives both women, taking away their agency and their basic ability to consent (so rape) which eventually drives Sarah to her suicide. (Side note: I’ve always been wondering if Jess might have been able to tell that Borden was actually two people, but I didn’t pay enough attention and would have to watch the movie again to make a statement on the case, but it’s interesting to think about.)

I actually liked the reveal about Borden and Fallon being brothers and frequently switching places. It made so much sense and is foreshadowed so early in the story and is also very important to highlight how Borden and Angier are different. When they go to see Chung Ling Soo – another magician-, Borden sees through Soo’s trick at once while Anguier has no clue BECAUSE BORDEN IS LIVING THE SAME PRETENSE. (Of course, a different pretense, but he is living a pretense to make his best illusion, The Transported Man, just like Soo is living his pretense to make his goldfish illusion.) Angier cannot even fathom to living a lie like this which is, I think, the biggest difference between them.

Which leads me to the birds. Throughout the movie, we see a lot of birds. Often in combination with a trick where a magician makes a bird „disappear“ and then makes the bird come back from somewhere else. Originally, the trick involves killing a bird and bringing another bird back. I read this part of the story as a metaphor about „getting your hands dirty in the magic business“. We can see that on different occasions, and it again highlights the difference between Borden and Angier and how they push each other in certain directions. In the beginning of his career, Borden assists a magician with this trick which is how he meets Sarah. Her nephew points out that the bird has been killed while Sarah tries to comfort him that it hasn’t and Borden can’t lie to the boy. (I actually liked that part about Borden.) Nevertheless, Borden is complicit in the killing of the birds, showing his ability and willingness to get his hands dirty for the job, and ties in with him living for the illusion and the tricks, denying a part of his life (his brother). Angier doesn’t want to do the trick when he goes solo. His ingénieur Cutter constructs a device that actually allows Angier to perform the trick without harming the bird, only after he made sure that Angier would be willing to hurt the bird in the first place. It is very clear that Angier doesn’t feel comfortable with killing the bird and is relieved when he doesn’t have to. He appears to be a person who wants to live according to his ideals, and not harm other people. When he wants to show the trick on stage and requires two volunteers, Borden assists (who Angier has wounded before) and destroys his bird, killing the bird, injuring the other volunteer and hindering Angier’s career. Borden pushes Angier in the direction of getting his hands dirty for his profession. It fuels the cycle of revenge in which they find themselves and eventually leads to the ultimate „dirtiness“ of Angier’s choices.

In the end, Angier and Borden both have to make sacrifices, but they sacrifice other people for their own benefit. I don’t doubt that it hurts them, but it is not really their sacrifice. While Borden’s behaviour leads to Sarah’s and his brother’s death, Angier’s behaviour leads to the death of 101 of his „clones“. While Angier is directly responsible for more dead people (and also partly responsible for Borden’s brother’s death because he lands him in prison), I think both make terrible choices and sacrifice and harm others along the way, only to get back at the other person. Angier lies to himself until the end, pretending all he did was to see the look on people’s faces when they see his tricks while the movie shows us clearly that both do what they do for success, fame and revenge. And Cutter is right when he calls Angier out on it, calling it a child’s obsession. It is childish and self-righteous what both of them are doing. This is what makes them so unlikeable.

The storyline about Tesla was a nice bit. In the beginning, I just liked it because Tesla. In hindsight, I also like it because it adds another layer on top with the whole illusion/reality theme because Tesla’s invention is handled as „real magic“ within the story whereas as a viewer, I also know it’s another illusion in the movie, as in: it’s not real in our reality.

All in all, I appreciated the movie. It asks a lot of very good questions about what we do for success and fame and how far we are willing to go to get what we think we deserve. The fact that I could barely sleep because my brain was turning over all these questions in my head shows me that it’s actually a quite good story. It was also very well executed because it conveyed its message on different levels. In the beginng of the movie, Cutter explains how illusions work in three parts, the last of them being the Prestige. And the whole movie works that way. Cutter explains that the audience is aware that it’s a trick but doesn’t look carefully enough at it because it actually doesn’t want to know how the trick works. The sentence is repeated in the end of the movie and spoke directly to me because all the revelations are foreshadowed quite well, and I was still wondering the whole time how things could be that way and when the „reality“ was revealed, I always knew that I should have known and actually wished somehow I didn’t need to know that Angier killed all his clones or that Borden sacrificed his brother for his career and his own life with his daughter. So, it was well executed, asked many good questions and made me think quite a lot. And that despite there being maybe two likeable characters (Cutter and Sarah).

3/5 stars (would have gotten 4 if it weren’t for the awful treatment of women)

Read V.T.’s review

Read Dolby’s review

Read Bea‘s review

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