Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Stupendous Double Bluff

I saw The Prestige yesterday, which was a very interesting movie.

First the flaws. The character development could have stood with a bit more attention, I thought. It's hard to put your finger on exactly what's missing, but something is. Also, the whole thing comes off a bit too "cinematic," which, to be fair, I guess some might argue is part of the point. Since the main characters are magicians, then an element of mesmerism is appropriate - but occasionally it seemed a lot like show over substance. Finally, the professional rivalry theme that makes up the story could have been handled with a bit more depth. Comparisons to Amadeus will be inevitable on this point - and more's the pity because in theory the rivalry theme in The Prestige is more interesting (because the rivals are worthy of each other - it's not completely clear who's the talent and who the mediocrity). And one minor bone to pick: pretty though she can be, I'm not a big fan of Scarlett Johannson.

But all these are minor gripes. The package as a whole is stunning - in particular David Bowie (yeah, I know, I never thought I'd be giving him props for acting, but hey!) as Nikola Tesla and Christian Bale as ... well, watch and see. Christian Bale is simply brilliant - in everything he does.

[Spoilers Begin Here]

I think the main reason I enjoyed this one, though, is because the trick at the end actually threw me for a loop, and that's getting depressingly rare. I saw the tricks in The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense coming a mile away, which ruined both of those for me. It's nice to see a film that actually throws a real curve. Although, to tell the truth, I wonder how many people really thought of it as a curve?

It occurred to me when I was thinking about this that I'm a sucker for double bluffs. I can remember, for example, reading Hickory, Dickory, Death one summer in high school and being completely stumped because - embarassingly - Nigel was the only suspect that made sense, but it couldn't be Nigel, it simply couldn't, because it was too obvious! Heh. Fooled me good - because of course Nigel was the right answer (Nigel had been deliberately making himself seem like the killer as a conscious strategy), and I thought it was a neat trick that the only reason I couldn't see it was because of an overreliance on meta-dramatic clues. Hazards of an undergraduate degree in literature, I suppose. Almost everyone else I know who's read that book tells me it was obvious to them early on...

Well, something similar happens with The Prestige. I think the revelation that Alfred Borden is a twin can be fairly termed a double bluff here - because Cutter says over and over that he knows Borden does the "Transported Man" trick by using a double. There is, of course, no shortage of other, more conventional clues - but the misdirection is all the more bold for those scenes where Cutter assures Angier that the trick is a double and that he's simply too obsessed to see it. That, of course, turns out to be more or less what's going on.

Anyway, I think I'm a sucker for this particular trick.

[Spoilers End Here]

I notice from the Wikipedia article (linked above) that Christopher Priest, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, is one of Granta's "Best of Young British Novelists" selections. Not only that, but he's a science fiction writer too - a near-perfect combination (I've enjoyed every story I've ever read in one of Granta's "Best of Young British Novelists" collections). I'm not sure I'm in the mood to read The Prestige so soon after seeing the film, but I'll definitely be reading one of his other works over the summer! (Depressingly, he isn't well-represented either in IU's main library or in the Monroe County Library. But there's always Amazon!) I like stories with unreliable narrators, and this is apparently one of Priest's hallmarks.