A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Prestige is dark period piece about dueling magicians that includes several violent deaths: two by drowning (the victims' frightened faces are visible), two by hanging, and another by shooting. Other violence includes one man shooting another's hand (there's some blood, and fingers are lost); the revelation that a bird has been smashed into a bloody pancake during a trick to simulate its "disappearance"; the accidental smashing of a woman's hand in a similar trick; and a man submitting to having his fingers chopped off (the action isn't shown, but the noise of the chop and his facial expression are jarring). Other than the violence, there's not too much to worry about -- a little sexual activity (mostly just kissing), fairly mild language, and some drinking.
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What's the story?
THE PRESTIGE focuses on the competition between magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) in turn-of-the-20th-century London. While cockney-accented Alfred is blunt and focused only on his art, Robert is a lesser magician but a more prodigious, ambitious showman. Though they initially work together, an on-stage accident leads to conflict and a battle of one-upsmanship for revenge. They compete over losses, tricks, and audiences, each reading the other's stolen journal to decipher his rival's meanings and mechanics. Robert goes so far as to name his version of "The Transported Man" (Alfred's crowd-pleasing finale) "The New Transported Man"; Alfred renames his show "The Original Transported Man." As the mechanical possibilities for tricks expand and shift, the men are increasingly hard-pressed to keep up. As they seek out more elaborate and astounding illusions, the magicians also begin to imagine intersections between science and art, performance and truth. Alfred's marriage begins to suffer and he takes a lover, Robert's former assistant Olivia (Scarlett Johansson). The men's contest turns increasingly aggressive, with each growing more isolated and spiteful. The magicians chase after control of their illusions, performances that fool audiences who want to be fooled. They believe that their competition depends on knowing each other's secrets, on not being fooled. But they are ever fooled, as each believes he is the more original prestidigitator. Ironically, this makes them, as Olivia observes angrily, "perfect for each other."
Is it any good?
Christopher Nolan's movie is a smart, intriguing tale of deceit and obsession. The Prestige (based on the novel by Christopher Priest) invites viewers to participate -- or at least to be aware of their participation -- in its storytelling. The film offers a series of tricks as connected pleasures; but they have less to do with plot twists (which are sometimes obvious) than details of character and performance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the competition between Robert and Alfred. How does The Prestige show the rising stakes of their conflict? How can you tell that the audiences within the film love the magicians' illusions? Why are the magicians driven to go to such extreme lengths? How does their relationship with the more-experienced Cutter affect them?
Is magic as popular today as it was in the late 1800s/early 1900s? Why or why not? Is there such a thing as real magic, or is it all illusion?
- In theaters: October 20, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: February 20, 2007
- Cast: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson
- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: for violence and disturbing images.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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