Were you surprised by 'The Prestige'?

94436__prestige_l_1The art of fooling people is all about misdirection. "Please feel free to inspect my female assistant’s dazzling smile and generous curves," a magician will subliminally implore his audience. "Don’t worry about what my hands are doing with this alarmed-looking parakeet." It is a fact that is rammed home by two recent magic-related movies, The Illusionist and The Prestige. This is not so much because both films touch on the concept of misdirection but because these supposedly tricksy projects actually direct the viewer towards their respective surprise endings with the enthusiasm of over-caffeinated aircraft controllers. Indeed, when you think about it, making a movie with a surprise ending which is also about magic is the very opposite of misdirection. The best unexpected reveals — such as those to be found at the end of Fight Club or Psycho or The Sixth Sense — are so shocking largely because you’re not expecting any kind of reveal at all. But, in a movie whose very subject is trickery, the audience is on guard right from the start. The result is that any kind of third act "tah-dah!" had better be pretty darned "tah-dah!"-ish.

That is not the case with the surprises which conclude The Illusionist or The Prestige (at least not in the case of the one which involves Christian Bale’s character, pictured). Indeed, both reveals are so heavily, and clunkily signposted by the halfway mark that I was genuinely surprised when they turned out to be the surprises. Surprised — and enraged.

The remarkable thing about all this is that both movies can boastthe involvement of Ricky Jay, one of the best magicians in the worldand one of the finest playing card manipulators who ever lived. Jayhas a cameo in The Prestige as a magician and is credited on The Illusionistas "magic consultant." One can only assume they didn’t consult himenough. A far better showcase for Jay’s marvelously sneaky talents isa DVD which accompanies the album Ricky Jay Plays Poker(due from Octone/Legacy on Nov. 21). Actually, the CD itself is a fineenough collection which rounds up 21 poker-related tracks from Dylan’s"Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie" to Saint Etienne’s "Etienne Gonna Die" (atrack which samples David Mamet’s movie House Of Games, anothersomewhat disappointing Jay-assisted film, albeit a genuinely tricksyone). But it is the DVD that makes the package an essential one, as Jaylectures a group of associates, including his Boogie Nightscostar John C. Reilly, on how to cheat at cards. The best — and mostdevilish — moment arrives when he shows a relatively easy way to make atalented and honest poker buddy look like he’s been conning his friendsout of all their money.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is magic.

Comments (60 total) Add your comment
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  • Jarett

    I had been looking forward to The Prestige for months, like a kid counting the days till Christmas. Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors and the cast needs no complimentary boasting, they know how good they all are. After actively avoiding spoilers for the film I sat down and at about the 90-minute mark I figured out the twist ending, but convinced myself that couldn’t be it………but it was. Does it make the movie unworthy? Absolutely not, it’s still a clever film with sharp dialogue and bracing effects, but after all that showmanship I was expecting something truly unexpected.

  • bo

    In our media OVER-saturated age, where everyone knows everything about every aspect of entertainment, it’s easy to have our expectations on just about everything raised to unreasonable heights, then be jaded and “enraged” when those expectations aren’t met. The point is, keep those expectations to a reasonable minumum, people. This movie was fantastic.

  • ktbuffy

    I ran out to see The Prestige on Friday night, avoiding all reviews and spoilers, and even though I had my suspicions about the surprises, I felt there were enough of them to keep me enthralled. For every turn I guessed at, there was something else that left me amazed.
    Among them? The nigh-unrecognizable David Bowie, doing a very good Tom Skerrit impression.

  • dan cullinane

    the hugh jackman one had a lot of clues laid out from the very beginning,which i don’t think was accidental, but the christian bale surprise, i have to admit, it took me by surprise, and then added a lot of layers to the story that i had not previously seen…i agree with other people, well done all around…

  • ednla

    I agree with Dan below. The movie does a great job of distracting you by letting you figure out the Hugh Jackman plot twist pretty early, and so you’re kind of disappointed when it’s revealed. But then the movie hits you with the Christian Bale plot twist, which you never see coming, even though the movie does set it up. The first twist turns out to be “the turn,” but the second twist is “the prestige.” As much as I enjoyed “The Illusionist,” I was disappointed that I guessed the big twist midway through the movie, and there weren’t any more twists to surprise me.

  • brandonk

    I was pretty disappointed by “The Prestige.” I think if I hadn’t read the book, I would have enjoyed it much more.

  • dan cullinane

    ednla — so see how smart you are, i hadn’t put those pieces together about the turn and the prestige, i just thought…oh never mind what i thought…thats totally it and now i admire the movie even more…yea good writing…more please…

  • Kati

    I’m sorry but for those who did see The Prestige and didn’t figure out that Fallon was who Fallon was — how? I knew it the second he appeared. I mean, come on, it’s a pretty rotten makeup job. On the whole, though, I was surprised how good Hugh Jackman was as Root. I just wish there had been a bit more heart in it. It was far from magical how the two handsome leads treated each other, themselves, and, really, everyone in their lives.

  • dan cullinane

    hey kati — way to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it…good job…now hurry along, i think there are some grandmothers you need to run over with your car, and some kittens you need to fry because you are pretty much where fun goes to die.

  • Some Guy

    I totally agree. The ending was so obvious that i was telling my friend halfway through what the outcome was going to be. Both reveals were obvious specially since the characters kept hinting at them the entire time. On top of that all of the main characters were rotten and/or selfish. I didnt care or relate to anyone. What a waste of money.

  • Brian

    I feel sorry for all of you poor souls who can’t just enjoy a movie because you’re too busy trying to “figure out the twist” so you can turn to your friends with smug satisfaction at the end and proclaim how you guessed it first. The fun of a film like “The Prestige” is how you get through the puzzle, not how fast you can get to the end. To dismiss a beautiful movie with at least three great performances and a totally enthralling story because you don’t feel the last thirty seconds were “shocking” enough is just sad.

  • Ashleigh

    I enjoyed the movie a lot with the exception of Angier’s (Jackman) twist. It wasn’t that I could or couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t that it was a fantastic twist or a terrible twist. It was because the entire movie spent its time showing that what we thought was “magic” was completely based in reality, but then the last twist ended up being unrealistic, impossible “magic”. I felt it was a cop-out.

  • Jeff Commings

    To Some Guy: I hope your friend disowned you for ruining the movie for me. If you had done that to me, I would have made you walk home, assuming I was driving. Anyway, I knew there was a twist, but I think what made me forget it after a while was the way Nolan worked with the timeframe, like he did with “Memento.” It kept my brain working in other ways. Plus, Hugh and Christian were so mesmerizing, I couldn’t concentrate most of the time.

  • Laura

    The Prestige was a great movie, and not so much for the “surprising twists”, which the movie clearly allows you to figure out before they are officially revealed, but because of the actual signifigance of these twists, and what they mean metaphorically and otherwise to/about the characters.
    Both of the twists for Borden and Angier show how far they were willing to go in order to achieve great magic, fame, and “prestige”. And in both cases, they suffered a great deal in order to achieve this – as well as revenge on each other. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the point of the movie – not whether or not the surprises actually surprise you, but rather the deeper meaning and message behind those surprises.

  • Some Guy

    Ha ha ha. She asked me “where the hell is this movie going?” so i told her. She asked so what am i supposed to do? BTW, I get how some people are all like the movie isnt about the twist ending, its about the characters. Ok, but they were all good for nothings. The wife is so selfish she doesnt care abut her daughters well being. Bale is so selfish and rotten that he lives a… you know what. Jackman is, well hes, bleh.. you know what. Scarlett is a… you know what with no morals. I didnt pitty anyone really. What the point? To watch rotten people become even more rotten and get what they deserve in the end? Now moral people becoming corrupt, thats more interesting.

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