Making the Grades
The pursuit of fame, accolades and status as London's most remarkable magician engulfs the lives of two aspiring prestidigitators in The Prestige. But their obsession with eminence comes at a high cost to both their friendship and personal lives.
As young men, Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work as audience plants for an illusionist until an accident causes the death of the entertainer's beautiful, female assistant (Piper Perabo). Torn apart by the girl's demise, Rupert and Alfred go their separate ways and begin their own careers, pitting them in a life-long rivalry for prominence on the stage.
Taunting and cruel, they try to expose their foe's tricks by disrupting one another's shows and causing bodily harm to each other and unfortunate audience volunteers. The competition also spills over into their home lives, triggering acts of deception and marital disharmony that lead to an untimely death when Rupert sends his stagehand, Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), to steal Alfred's secrets.
The enmity turns to all out war when Alfred introduces an incredible, new act. Unfazed by the sobering cautions of his mentor (Michael Caine), Rupert is driven to find the mystery behind the trick. Traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to Colorado Springs, he meets with the reclusive scientific inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and begs him and his aide (Andy Serkis) to create an even more inspiring illusion for his own show.
Erratic jumps in the story's time line and a meandering start make it difficult to connect with the opening scenes of this movie. However, the pace of the script picks up as the rivalry develops, drawing unsuspecting victims into the fray. Unfortunately, the body count also mounts as characters are shot, drowned, disfigured and driven to suicide during the escalating battle between the magicians.
As their obsession with fame slowly sickens both men, the pointlessness of their rivalry becomes clear. And like the unhealthy addiction that neither man can overcome, the film draws the viewer in -- but fails to give the kind of satisfying ending most audience members will crave.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Prestige.
What does Michael Caine’s character mean when he says “obsession is a young man’s game”? How does Rupert and Alfred’s fixation on being the best affect their lives? Why are they unable to walk away from the rivalry? Can the pursuit of fame become addictive?
Although both men are talented performers, what part does showmanship play in their individual success? What sacrifices do the men make for their profession? What would you be willing to give up to be the best at something??
The film proposes several “what if” scenarios. If magic were real, what trick would you want to be able to perform? If Tesla’s invention worked as portrayed, what moral implications would follow? If both men were not so committed to secrecy, what tragedies and deceptions could have been avoided?