Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The End of the Most Prestigious Debate

This blog was chosen as a LAMB Chop for the week of May 31 - June 6.

I used to have the greatest job in the world. I worked at a store called DVD Planet and for mere slave wages I got to mock customers with inferior film knowledge than my own, get rare and out of print DVD before they went out on the floor and debate/discuss movies all shift long with my friends. You can find heaven on Earth, in Huntington Beach or Rancho Cucamonga. The best part, of course, were the arguments over films and none of them raged harder or longer than that of The Prestige.

When The Prestige premiered, everybody at work saw in within a week. Later, when it went to the dollar theatre, I am pretty sure everyone saw it again. And thus began our great argument over the movie; did Borden have a twin or a clone? We went back and forth for weeks on the subject and when we finally let it die down and agreed to disagree, the DVD was released. We watched it in the store on a loop and the whole discussion came back with a vengeance.

Before I go on, a brief summary for those who are unfamiliar with the film, and yes, there will be spoilers. The film focuses on two magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, respectively. They begin as young apprentices, working together and quickly develop a rivalry that escalates beyond either of their expectations. It is a character study more than a movie about magic, but director Christopher Nolan makes a truly fascinating film, requiring more than one view. Without giving too much away (and I advise anyone who has not seen the movie to stop reading here) in regards to the plot, there ends up being multiple incarnations of more than one character, which led directly to the debate in our store.

I maintained the position that Fallon was a clone of Borden, achieved through a similar method to that of Angier’s. I read the novel by Christopher Priest, in which it is implied that Borden had a twin, but I believed that Nolan took creative license and changed certain story elements. I backed up my side with points about the dual nature of Borden/Fallon, the very Jungian qualities of the character, Sarah telling Borden that she ‘knew what he really was’ and the fact that Borden reveals Tesla as the secret to his trick. And the thing that really sold me on the idea was the scene after Borden watches Angier’s “New Transported Man” and yells at Fallon, “Why can’t you out think him?!” To me, that was so clearly him challenging himself to be better than Angier, I couldn’t honestly read it another way.

My friends would argue back that in fact, Tesla is NOT really Borden’s secret. But, I would say that Tesla admits as much that he built the machine once before for another magician. They would talk and talk, but I couldn't care less. All the points they came up with fell on deaf ears and I would never give in an inch to them. But today, as I caught the last ten minutes on cable, it finally hit me. They were right.

Borden never had a clone.

When Lord Caldlow comes to visit Borden/Fallon in jail, Borden is truly astonished to see him. Christian Bale plays the scene perfectly and looking at his face, it hit me like a ton of bricks. He has no flipping idea how he did it. He doesn’t know about the true nature of Tesla’s machine or the clones. And I realize now why for so long I chose to believe otherwise. It’s because Christopher Nolan is a great magician. He kept me looking and thinking and guessing even though the answer was right in front of me. I was looking for the secret, but I couldn’t find it, because I wanted to be fooled. And like Angier/Caldlow says at the end of the film, if you can fool them for just a second then you got to see something really special. It only took me two times to see the movie to realize it was all about movies, but it took me nearly two years before I realized the true prestige.

Thanks for reading and I want to give special thanks to my friends at DVD Planet who helped make this blog happen, in alphabetical order, Alex, Graham, Logan and Phil.

The Prestige directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.


matty said...

I had to skip reading this one b/c I hadn't seen the movie. I know it's hard to review without giving away some stuff, and this is more a blog than a review but......just my opinion.

Michael J. Mendez said...

I'll let you borrow it this weekend, if you bring back my copy of Southland Tales. It will blow the classical cinema out your butt!

Phillip said...

Ahh, such great memories of those debates! I've actually flip flopped several times and have confused myself as to what to believe. I still believe they are twins but it's so easy to find support for the other way. Your reference to his look at the end is very true, but what about the very end after that with the room of tanks, Jackman has a similar reaction. It's been a while since I've seen it and I actually bought the script a few months ago but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I'm hoping there is some clues in there. Anyways, thanks for the shout out and thanks for coming around to my side! lol I'm loving the blog, I check it everyday. Keep up the great work. Miss ya man.

Michael J. Mendez said...

I think Jackman's look at the end was the same shock Bale had in jail. Except it was the inverse of that reaction because he could not believe that Borden has a double. He couldn't accept the simple answer that he knew all along.

Just like me. :) Thanks for reading, man!

pati said...

i dont know if steve told you this but i put some posts for you on soc.culture.mexican. im under femenino


Nick said...

Hmm... no offense, mate, but I never thought there was any question on whether or not it was a twin or a clone. I thought it was made perfectly and abundantly clear it was a twin.

So... no real argument there :P

Michael J. Mendez said...

See, I read the book and KNEW it was a twin but was second guessing myself throughout the movie. Because if Angier had a clone, I thought Borden must have a clone too. Unless of course, you're one of the people who think that the machine never worked.

Which it might not have.