Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Prestige: an intriguing film

We are at the beginning of the 19th century when science and magic were close. People believed that everything is possible either through magic or through science. Two famous magicians, rivals, struggle to steal each others secrets. In their hatred they stop at nothing. They try to kill each other and succeed in pushing each other to the limits and destroy their lives.
At first sight the scenario of the film doesn’t seem every interesting or appealing. After a whole series of the magic of Harry Potter, Narnia, Eragon two medieval magicians seem hardly noticeable. The story of those men though refers to much more than their ability to execute tricks and seduce their audience. At the beginning of the film the one of the two magicians Christian Bale, explains that in order for a magician to succeed in creating the absolute trick, the trick that will earn him a place in history, he has to have a dedication that and make sacrifices for his whole life. For him the magic tricks would be his life. This man in order to do a good trick, he chooses to live a half life. He hides his twin brother and both live their lives as if they were one single person. They share wife and mistress, even though one doesn’t the wife and the other doesn’t love the mistress. When the one of the two has an accident loses some of his fingers, the other intentionally cuts his fingers two. This man sacrifices his life for the few hours he spends on the scene.
On the other hand, his opponent- Hugh Jackman seems to be favored by luck and wealth. He doesn’t seem to struggle and sacrifice so much. When Christian Bale does his famous trick, Hugh Jackman feels pressed to do something to overpower him. He goes therefore to meet a scientist, an inventor of electricity. This man constructs a strange machine that duplicates whatever is put into it. For 100 nights he duplicates transports himself and kills his clones. For 100 nights he kills himself in order to do the absolute magic trick. Therefore the first of the magicians leaves half life obscuring his other half, his twin brother, and the second kills himself every night over and over again. Two men opponents but similar, two sides of the same coin, sacrifice everything, their lives, their loves, their identities, themselves to their hatred and most of all to their obsession. The drama is of epic proportions. Moreover, going deeper into the meaning of this film we meet a great philosophical challenge to the idea of selfhood and identity. What are the key elements of our identity and our selfhood? A twin brother normally shares with us the appearance, a genetic code. Our lives though prove our preferences, our choices and eventually manage to differentiate us. In the film’s case, though, the two brothers melt into one person. They share profession, wife and mistress, name, lives completely. Where does the identity of the one starts and how can it be compared to the other? Our identity is built on the comparison with the Other. We manage to understand our selfhood by recognizing we are separate and different from the other. How is that possible in this case that the film presents? To make things even more complicates we have the example of the other magician as well. Every night he reproduces himself by the machine. How can he know for sure that he is the original and the other is the clone, the copy? He never talks to the clones before he kills them. Only the first time before grabbing the gun we here the clone scream “Don’t, I am…..”What the original, the prototype, the real? If the clone has the memories of the original and believes to be the prototype, what differentiates him fro the original, what makes him the clone? Unsettling ideas.
Christopher Nolan manages to create atmosphere, a world between reality and surreal. Presenting a story in the medieval era he asks questions that are very modern. Actually they are part of the modern philosophy. He also manages these ideas through stunning pictures and images that have the ability to haunt the spectator. The last image from the film with the water tanks filled with copies of the same dead body over and over again definitely stays with you. To tell the truth similar ideas and similar images have been encounters again in film even if in another context. Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers for example also explores the boundaries between twin brothers. Or the Alien Resurrection presents almost the same image. Water tanks filled with the monstrous clones of Ripley. Still Prestige remains an autonomous well executed intriguing film.

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