Wonder was, for me, the dominant emotion I felt when watching this movie, even the second, third, fourth time. Wonder’ mirroring Angier’s, the foolish, obsessive magician, or Cutter, his wary ingénieur, when presented with the ‘wizard’ Tesla’s machines, and their implications. David Julyan’s score was particularly effective in adding to that effect, its subtle ambience contributing to a texture of awe, of fear, over the strange frightening possibilities presented in screen. (Though for some critics, the score was dull, or merely functional, succeeding in the context of the film but not on its own merit. Not being a film score critic, I’ll avoid sliding into that debate.)
This film raises questions about the nature of magic, wonder, progress, and exploration. It is, in part, a film about a visionary, Nicola Tesla, and the seemingly limitless possibilities afforded by scientific advancement. ‘Nothing is impossible,’ Tesla tells Angiers on their first meeting, when Angiers commissions Tesla to build him his impossible machine. ‘Nothing is impossible… what you ask is merely expensive.’ Or, ‘You are familiar with the phrase, “Man’s reach exceeds his grasp?” It’s a lie. Man’s grasp exceeds his imagination.’
Is ‘wonder’ the result of appreciating the possibilities that exist, or could exist, thanks to modern science? Is The Prestige a science fiction film, dealing with events that, though they are not possible in the real world, can seem otherwise, through the modern narrative of scientific progress?
But the possibilities with which this film deals, the machine it depicts, cannot be explained by or even theorised by any branch of science. It is impossible to duplicate a top-hat, or a cat, or a fully-grown man, and it is hard to imagine this ever changing. Often, the film’s characters refer to Tesla’s machine as ‘magic’, as opposed to science. Is this a film about fantasy, about impossible things that are hidden under the guise of scientific progress?
My question is, why does the impossible, the magical, carry such an allure? Why does it provoke wonder, and awe? Fantasy remains, for me, the primary form – it captures my interest most completely. And sales figures for modern fantasy novels and film would suggest that this is the case for a lot of people. Fantasy provokes wonder, fear, and the thrill of confrontation with something strange, frightening, wonderful. The Prestige, in its depiction of an impossible machine, and its awful consequences, evokes these emotions.
I think I will return to this film, in a later, longer post. It raises multiple questions, about fantasy, wonder, magic, in which I am particularly interested.