How do you make a movie about magic, without spoiling the magic in the movie? It’s a question several films wrestled with in 2007, to varying degrees of success. In the final moments of The Prestige, director Christopher Nolan uses a closing speech from Michael Caine to set out a theory that could easily serve as the mission statement for his entire filmography. As a viewer, you don’t want to learn how it was all done, deep down, you just want to be fooled.
With its twisting tale of two warring magicians locked in bitter rivalry over a seemingly impossible trick, The Prestige revels in its misdirects, hiding in plain sight at one moment, only to totally wrongfoot the audience in the next. Worried that this period drama about illusionists is in danger of looking a bit too straightforward? Enter David Bowie with the cloning machine!
Your mileage on this may well vary. Ours certainly did. Is the third-act turn into sci-fi a clever comment on subverted expectations, or a pretentious cop-out. I’m still unsure, but the more Nolan I watch, the more I find his films, for all their obvious creativity, to be strangely empty and largely driven by the mechanics of plot, rather than the inner life of his characters.
In this week’s podcast, we get into the great Nolan debate while attempting to summarise the plot, featuring important discussion points such as Scarlet Johansson’s ever-wandering accent, the logistics of mid-show beard-switching, Michael Caine’s confusing allegiances and more, plus drinking games, listener submissions and sequel pitches.
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Next week, inspired by a recent Patreon pick, we’re digging into one of the life and times of one of the most infamous directors in Hollywood history. Until then, happy listening and remember – you have to