"It's not enough to make something disappear, you have to bring it back again."
"No one cares about the man in the box..."
"In the end, you don't really want to know the truth; you want to be fooled."
Indeed you may not want to know the truth about human nature as this movie describes it. You will be surprised throughout, and indeed, Christopher Nolan's skillful construction will grow on you the more you think about it. Most viewers will be kept guessing till the end. It is well written and acted. I dare say it literally has some of the tightest construction I've seen in a long time. My respect for Nolan's directing just grew by leaps. Since the movie works within three time periods, the danger of confusing the audience is high. Nolan guides us through the plot so seamlessly though, folding recurring bits of dialogue into the plot with meaning and force and in just the right order to create the needed continuity.
The acting, as I mentioned, was wonderful. Hugh Jackman finds an ideal role as the "sophisticated" Robert Angier while Christian Bale owns his part as Angier's archrival, Alfred Borden. In between Angier and Borden are some other interesting character sketches such as Cutter (Michael Caine), a skilled stage engineer who stays refreshingly solid in his methods and manner while the two rivals are developing into bitter enemies.
Regardless of the movie's intent, one thing should be kept in mind--this is a movie short on heroes. That's not to say I don't thoroughly appreciate the human elements this movie highlights. The basic plot is a journey of two philosophies--so different and so similar--and Angier and Borden take them to the extreme.
One believes that success is simply the greater ability to fool the audience--his last line of the movie: "It was the look on their faces..." He spends most of this life compulsively looking for something better--assuming his rival has a better trick that he must top. He takes his obsession with beating his rival to the end--his own personal destruction.
The other believes that success equals sacrifice--no matter what it is he is sacrificing. He is willing to take what he has, perfect it, and then hold onto it regardless of the collateral damage to himself or those he loves.
In the end, one philosophy seems to triumph over the other, but only because he has something real to walk away with at the end--and only after he has completely denied all that was left of himself and admitted one of his greatest mistakes.
One huge thing that most viewers and reviewers seem to have missed is the impeccable detailing that went into this movie. The period is immersive and accurate, with real life character Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) scripted with as much mystery and dignity as the real life man.
If it is still in the theaters, I recommend it with the caution that if the rating says "disturbing images" you can take that seriously.
The Prestige is a work of art nonetheless.