Already the poster for THE PRESTIGE
suggests that the elusive Woman (notice
the smoke) from film noir
will disturb the men’s auto-reproductive
A friend recently suggested that THE PRESTIGE is a film about two men trying to reproduce without women. But, is this really a correct assessment?
Indeed the plot of Christopher Nolan’s newest can be described as a contest between two halves of a male personality striving to accomplish unity. One is a rugged proletarian with talent, and the other a genteel with showmanship skills. As you have already guessed, the setup differs little from THE FIGHT CLUB – so I’m wondering at which point do we get completely saturated by Gothic tales about splitting told through twisted narratives?
The usual pop psychology informs the proceedings: two magicians (Christian and Hugh) looking for the greatest trick, the Prestige, which remains forever beyond grasp. It is the maintenance of the illusion that the grass is greener over the Rainbow that provides for magic. Once the trick gets exposed, we see that the Wizard of Oz was just a silly old man pushing the buttons of a dream-machine; Dorothy returns to Kansas, and the fun ends.
Now most writers in film criticism tend to avoid SPOILERS, in order not to disturb your enjoyment of the film. Especially since THE PRESTIGE depends, as any other film noir, on your suspension of disbelief until the end. Although THE PRESTIGE ultimately reveals the Secret, its resolution leaves enough ambiguity to preserve the trickery for further rehashes.
The Prestige is a device made by the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. A bit like David Cronenberg’s teleporter from THE FLY, Tesla’s Machine simply generates multiplications. You put a cat, or a hat, under electrodes, and you get multiple cats or hats. By this very playful substitution of ”cat” for ”hat”, the Machine collapses the usual functioning of language.
On another level, the Machine presents us with the fantasy of a magical device that can create matter out of nothingness. Hypothetically, such a perpetuum mobile could create an alternative mode of production, challenging class distinctions as well as the concept of the market.
Tesla is like a Gothic shaman here, offering the illusionists a taste of immanence, where technological magic reconciles their splitting. Conveniently played by David Bowie, the icon of androgyny, Tesla dispenses with the gender problem mentioned in the beginning. Instead of just one Christian Bale, we can now have an endless line of Christians produced by a mere push of the button. No need for those endlessly squabbling women and their reproductive demands!
At this point, Scarlett Johansson walks on stage. As it turns out, Scarlett is the one who fueled the fights between Christian and Hugh. Hugh sent Scarlett to Christian so that she can steal his secret and give it to Hugh, but Scarlett pulled her own trick on Hugh to pit the two against each other even more. In the end, the liberated woman triumphs: not only did she spoil Christian’s auto-reproductive fantasy, she also delivered a speech about female abuse in the hands of obsessive men.
Ergo, the secret of the Prestige is something that we may not have (Nikola Tesla warns the magician: ”Destroy the Machine!”). As Christian Bale kills Jackman’s double to preserve family values for the decent American viewer, it seems that ultimately, men cannot do without women, and the world cannot do without divisions.