One of acclaimed director Christopher Nolan’s best films, The Prestige (2006) is a feat of excellence in both its storytelling and cinematography. Set in turn of the century London, the story follows two rival magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), as they compete with one another to perform the greatest trick of all – with murderous consequences.
The Prestige makes use of a multi-layered, time-twisting narrative to convey its initially quite confusing plot in the most organised way possible. The film switches between different moments in time without much of an indication to the viewer, so one has to ensure that sufficient attention is paid so that the ending has its requisite payoff. But either way, this is one of those films where you probably have to watch it a couple of times to make sense of the Nolan-esque ending, to figure out exactly what he’s trying to tell us.
When I watched this film again recently, I was firstly reminded of how horrible both Bale’s and Jackman’s accents are. Scarlett Johansson’s fake British accent is the only one that is vaguely believable. Secondly, it reminded me of how much I love and adore both David Bowie and Nikola Tesla, who Bowie plays in this film. And thirdly, I was stunned by the cinematography. I think once you’ve seen this film a couple of times and sorted out the plot, the genius of the way the film is visually constructed becomes more and more apparent, as you are able to focus on it more clearly.
The cinematographer, Wally Pfister, makes use of earthy tones throughout The Prestige, giving every scene a realistic and grounded quality. This ensures that in the scenes where magic is happening, the use of bright whites, blues and purples in both the stage lighting and electricity is almost blinding because our eyes have to adjust to the sudden change in brightness and tone. It makes you feel like someone in nineteenth century London might feel, as this amazing Tesla technology is being displayed for the first time; almost painful on the eyes, yet also spellbinding and beautiful in its own potentially destructive way. The framing is also excellent throughout, with many long shots that draw the viewer in to the world of the film, and in some cases, trap them there. Put simply, this is a visually striking film. Each cinematographic choice serves a purpose other than just looking good.
Here are some of my favourite shots from The Prestige. As always, the film is ten times better looking in motion. If you haven’t yet seen The Prestige, I would highly recommend doing so! I’ve mixed the images up a bit, but please be aware of any potential spoilers below if you haven’t yet seen the film.
Watch the trailer here.
All images sourced from the amazing Evan E. Richards.
Watch this film at Amazon!