50th Post: Battle Royale: The Prestige VS. The Illusionist
Here we have it. A battle royale of magical proportions. The Prestige VS. The Illusionist. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman vs. Edward Norton. Scarlett Johannson vs. Jessica Biel. Batman and Wolverine vs. the Hulk…wait. No matter where your allegiances lie, this is a solid battle. Which should you watch?
Short answer: Both. They are both great movies in their own rights.
Long answer: It depends on your style. (Truly, even if it seems annoyingly neutral)
We’ll start with a truly simplistic form of each plot since each is very, very complex. The Prestige pits Jackman and Bale (we’ll ignore character names because they won’t be necessary) against each other as magicians/illusionists/performers trying to best their rival in every regard, but most importantly, in the newest and greatest trick: the transported man. Michael Caine supports as the mentor and creator of many of the tricks, as well as imparts his typical Alfred-ian wisdom. The Illusionist follows Edward Norton as he uses his considerable talent to gain fame in Vienna and win the love of his childhood crush, Jessica Biel. After her murder, he uses his powers (?) to avenge her death.
Both films are set at the turn of the twentieth century when magicians were still seen as confounding, yet beginning to be doubted for their abilities. The Prestige focuses on the behind-the-scenes of the tricks and the obsession of Jackman’s character to discover the secrets of his more talented counterpart. The Illusionist, while utilizing great effects (and an overt amount of sepia tone), focuses more on Paul Giamatti’s investigation and the love affair of Norton and Biel. The magic is Norton’s main method of communicating, but not necessarily the same style of focus as in Prestige.
As can be expected, the actors give excellent performances and the actresses are more or less side pieces to fill in gaps. Most interesting to me about Prestige was the way in which Bale and Jackman’s characters mirrored their personal styles. Bale being the man who devotes himself entirely to his work (see: The Machinist); Jackman being the true performer and people person (see: all his roles). This dynamic made the film flow more smoothly as Bale and Jackman fit smoothly into their roles. Norton and Giamatti are the same powerhouses they always are, even if Giamatti has, in a way, played this same part multiple times (see: Shoot’em Up). Johannson and Biel are not given much to work with since their characters are simply plot-fillers, but they fit the roles nicely, to a point.
The Prestige, like most Christopher Nolan films, works more as a jigsaw puzzle being put together as the film progresses with his trademarked style of indeterminate timelines jumbled together forcing the audience to work it out on their own. This, no doubt, builds the suspense and tension to the point where even you will feel your heart beating a bit faster at points. The Illusionist, on the other hand, takes the more artistic route. There is more of a focus on the love story and the lengths one will go to for the chance at happiness with another. The Prestige makes it a goal to answer all of the questions and give the audience a sense of closure, while The Illusionist answers the important ones, but leaves some questions unanswered in a way that will bother you for a bit (luckily, without changing your view of the film).
Regardless, both films shed some light on the “you see what you want to see” mantra in unique ways. Both films have excellent endings. Prestige’s ending is more original and mind-blowing, but Illusionist’s ending is more shocking considering the pace and style of the film, even if somewhat stale. If you prefer style to substance, and don’t want to think about the process, then you would fit more nicely watching The Illusionist. If you have an innate desire for solving puzzles and gaining answers, then you fall in The Prestige category. Personally, I am more in the latter category, but there is no doubting that both films are worth a view.