For most viewers, The Prestige was a film about rival stage magicians in the Victorian Era, alternately seeking to top one another in the dank climate of emerging industrial revolution and technological wonder. Lord Caldlow/Angiers (Hugh Jackman) is the secret nobleman who has a flair for the art of illusion, while Robert Borden and his twin (Christian Bale) are the working class stage hands who have devoted their lives to their art. In the midst of this rivalry, the curious figure of Nikola Tesla enters (played by David Bowie) to interject the element of real magic, titled in the film, “wizardry.” Both magicians are on a quest to sabotage the other, while seeking to perfect the greatest trick of all – the transported man.
Stage rivalry and obsession is what The Prestige is about, but it is also about much more. After several viewings (as is my normal habit), my thesis began to congeal: The Prestige is about Hollywood and film-making itself. And not only that, it is an industry that is an art of deception and illusion. The director and the actors are in effect illusion artists, or con men, if you will. The successful director is able to fool the audience into accepting that what is presented on the screen is real, even if it is evidently fantastical. The magicians’ ingenieure, Mr. Cutter (Michael Caine), explains this principle of film as illusion at the beginning, which is to be applied to the film itself. Cutter states:
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”
Director Christopher Nolan explains in “The Making of The Prestige” this is to be applied to both directing and the film itself as theatrical illusion: “For me, The Prestige is very much about film-making. It’s very much about what I do. It is also intended to suggest to the audience some of those ideas about how the film itself is spooling its narrative out to the audience. You want people to be aware of the effect the film is having as it’s unfolding before their eyes.” The Prestige follows this same tripartite structure, as it draws you into an ordinary story of human rivalry and obsession, the “Turn,” where the audience is looking for the secret of Angier and the Borden’s trick, but not truly looking, because like film, stage magic operates under the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The audience “wants to be fooled.” And in the end, the transported man must come back – reemerge or resurrect, as the final climax of the show.
In order to properly understand Nolan’s film, we must consider the same principle elucidated concerning David Lynch films – twilight language. Researcher Michael Hoffman defines “twilight language” as follows in his Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare: “The path to unlocking this gnosis was centered in “twilight language,” a once nearly universal subliminal communication system used in Egypt, Babylon, the Indian subcontinent and among the Aztecs, consisting of a combination of numbers, archetypal words and symbols, which in our time are sometimes embedded in modern advertising, and in certain modern films and music…. In Oriental Tantra, the mantra (including dharani, kavaca, yamala, etc.) is sonically calculated to induce a particular action. It forms part of the original sanskrit concept of sandhyabhasa(twilight language). In Tantra, ‘Sandhyabhasa…is a language of light and darkness…in this higher type of discourse, words have another, a different meaning: this is not to be openly discussed.” (pg. 207) Continue reading