I have not kept it a secret that I really love what Christopher Nolan does as a writer and a filmmaker. In 2006 he released a movie of intrigue based on a novel by the same name, The Prestige, about two feuding magicians.
I have listened to about half of The Prestige audio book, so I can only compare the two stories so much. The book starts in modern-day, with a young man, Andrew Westley, who we come to find out is Alfred Borden’s great grandson. Since he has been adopted, he learns of this connection only recently at the time the book begins. He is a journalist for a local paper who travels to a place for a story, only to find out that he has been summoned by Kate Angier, the great-granddaughter of Rupert Angier (who is named Robert in the film), who has some questions for Andrew that she believes will explain a mystery surrounding their magician predecessors and from their own childhood. Later, we get Alfred Borden’s account of his story in his own words. Then we get the perspective of Kate, and then we get Rupert Angier’s account in his own words (what happens beyond this point I’m not sure).
“Are you watching closely?”
The accounts of Bolden and Angier share similarities and dissimilarities between the story of the two magicians in the film. In the film, the two appear to be friends and colleagues at first, who then become scorned with one another after a terrible accident. In the book, an accident does turn the two against each other, though they are hardly acquainted beforehand, and Bolden is not even aware of what the consequences of his actions have borne for Angier. The focus for the magicians in both the book and the movie, however, is on each magician wanting to create the best version of The New Transported Man illusion, where the magician himself appears to be transported in less than a second.
Nolan, however, clearly added some elements for dramatic purposes. (Warning, movie spoilers ahead) Unless these things come up later in the book, it appears that Borden was never on trial, that his wife Rebecca never hung herself, and that Angier’s wife did not drown on stage. Borden and Angier also do not exchange many words during the book, and they especially don’t appear to write secret coded journals specifically for the other magician to find. Nolan also eliminated the modern-day story line that is in the book, which I have found myself engrossed in since I am not sure what will happen there, but I can understand how it needed to be cut for a feature length film.
What I find most fascinating about the film Nolan created is that the viewer doesn’t even know who they are really supposed to root for. Most people I saw the movie with did seem to sympathize with Angier more, whereas I had sided with Borden; but regardless, who the true protagonist is and who the true antagonist is is left quite gray. In the book, when you read (or in my case, hear) Borden’s account, he’s easy to side with. He admits he started a skirmish with Angier, but sought to make amends and did not want it to continue, whereas Angier seemed to further provoke it. Then when you hear Angier’s side, you understand better why he did what he did. Again, it’s quite gray, and even generations later, you see that the families have still not forgiven each other entirely.
There’s no real magic in The Prestige, but there is a lot of science, wonder, and creativity crafting the great illusions the magicians perform. And sadly, their stage lives also often overshadow, rule, and consume their real lives. For a great story about the mystery of stage magic as well as the intrigue of the human condition, I would definitely recommend the film The Prestige, and based on what I have experienced with the book so far, I would recommend it as well.
Have you seen the film or read the book? What are your thoughts?