The filmmaker charged with reviving the big-screen Batman takes a break from the franchise to adapt The Prestige, a tale of rival magicians in an era of emerging sciences. Christopher Nolan loves to fool you.The 36-year-old director is a master of misdirection. Memento played with time. Insomnia played with reality. Batman Begins played with identity.
Point out that all his movies trick their audiences, and he’s delighted to agree. “That’s one of the things movies are really good at,” he says. “There’s nothing better than when you’re sitting in a cinema and a film surprises you somehow. Not necessarily with a narrative twist; it just does things you don’t expect … that make sense.”
Nolan’s latest flick, watch The Prestige, takes this obsession with misdirection to the next level. Co-written with his brother Jonathan, this “fairly loose adaptation” of Christopher Priest’s novel follows two dueling 19th-century magicians (Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale) as they try to outflank each other with ever-more-eleborate feats of magic. Eventually, one enlists the help of real-life electrical wizard Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) — blurring the lines between science and the supernatural in the process.
And, true to form, Nolan says he and his brother “constructed the narrative along the lines of a magic trick. Our film’s structure builds to a final reveal.” He’s less revealing when it comes to dishing on any of the tantalizing films he has in the pipeline — including his Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight and a big-screen remake of the legendary spy-fi TV series The Prisoner. But we thought we’d ask anyway.
In Focus caught Nolan between bouts with the final sound mix on The Prestige full movie. Topics covered: legerdemain, Tesla, Howard Hughes, The Prisoner, the Bat-myth, artfully impenetrable DVDs and David Goyer.
The Movie As Magic Trick
Christopher Nolan said he decided to watch The Prestige online free instead of proceeding directly to The Dark Knight. He and his brother have been working on The Prestige a very long time — six, seven years. They were going to make it before Batman Begins, actually, but it didn’t work out time-wise. When they finished Batman, they were very keen to get back to it and fascinated by magic and how magic is made for a long time. There’s a strong narrative element in the way a trick unfolds. The movie really wanted to build the narrative along those lines, rather than trying to present stage magic on film.
Genius inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) conspires with magician Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman). There’s a fascinating relationship between the essence of an audience’s experience of magic and the audience’s experience — the key being that people know it’s a trick, and that’s part of the attraction. You know it’s not true. And the entertainment would not be there under any condition if it was real. And what’s strange is that both magicians and filmmakers spend the whole time trying to make things as convincing as possible.
Hugh Jackman’s character has a line where he says, “If I saw a woman in half onstage and the audience thought it was real, they’d run screaming.” Once you step beyond that as a magician, you’re in the realm of a psychic or medium, which is very different. Many 19th-century magicians were mythbusters. They loved to expose hoaxes. I think a lot of them saw it as an abuse of their talents — their power to make magic on a stage. Presenting it as reality was unethical.
The novel gets into that much more than the full movie does. We don’t deal in the plot with psychics and mediums and so forth. But we do explore the burgeoning revolutions in science — the early days of electricity — and the tension between things that appear to be magical and are just real. It surprises me that Nikola Tesla’s life hasn’t been covered more extensively on film. His work was so important, and his rivalries so extreme — and there are so many crackpot tales and conspiracy theories floating around the man. When you watch The Prestige online Nikola is a very small but pivotal character. He’s Mephistophelean — a wizard, essentially, who can give you what you want. That’s very much the reputation that’s grown up around the real Tesla. The movie fictionalize certain events, but the background and essence of the character are fairly true to life, really.
Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but in the book, he’s treated as a steampunk, almost science-fiction character. There are various things that Tesla is supposed to have done that have not yet happened at a reproducible level in science. He’s really the ideal character for taking you in more of a science-fiction direction — because quite literally, there are aspects of his career that are still residing in that realm.
For example the wireless transmission of electricity, where you can grab it from the air – that’s something he’s supposed to have done in various quite extraordinary experiments that have yet to be duplicated. Tesla would perform extraordinary demonstrations very much in the manner of a magician. I’m reminded of the Arthur C. Clarke quote about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. That quote is extraordinarily applicable here.