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What a shot. It brings to mind the beautiful interior scene near the beginning of Inception (2010) or the mountain training centre in Batman Begins (2005).
In a fit of enthusiasm for Christopher Nolan’s work, I recently watched his 2006 film The Prestige, from which the still above comes. The story of a rivalry between two magicians is told with an elusiveness typical of the director: extensive fragmentary flashbacks are intertwined with elements of trickery that the subject matter allows. (‘I think he’s dead.’ ‘No, wait, he’s not.’ ‘What?’) The film invites comparison with Inception, though its narrative arrangement feels closer, for me, to that in Memento (2000).
It’s interesting to note that Neil Burger’s The Illusionist also came out in 2006. I don’t know the details of the two releases, though it’s funny to think about the timing. (Was it a similar case, for example, to the production of Antz and A Bug’s Life, both of which were released in 1998?) I’ve not seen The Illusionist recently enough to make any comparisons between the two pictures, though the similarity of subject matter is enough to think themes and images may echo between the two.
When I was trying to place The Prestige in a context, The Illusionist was the first film that came to mind. Inception, Memento and others directed by Nolan were also floating around. The parallels that formed quickest were both those drawn with a broad thematic brush and those from within the director’s own body of work. That’s probably normal. As I was watching the picture, I also found a number of weaker echoes – in the sense of those less well formed – coming to mind from other films. They feel all the more enticing because they are fleeting and difficult to explain. I mean brief similarities both formal (for example, the construction of a particular frame, the camera movement or the lighting) and narrative based (a section of dialogue, an actor’s movement or a series of events). Such comparisons that are not restricted by chronology or genre but instead centre on thematic and visual parallels are, for me, often the most vivid and the most exciting. (That’s not to say, of course, that chronological or generic study is useless. It isn’t.)
So, for example, when Angier (Hugh Jackman) luxuriates in the applauds of the audience, achieving a moment of success and adoration tinged with an (at the time) ambiguous sadness, Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) standing on top of a turnbuckle for his (possibly) final finisher in The Wrestler (2008) comes briefly to mind.
I felt a similarity between Spike Jonze’s Being John Malcovich (1999) and the moment when Angier reveals that, each time he performs his greatest trick, his machine produces an identical copy of himself and that, to combat this oddity, he must endure a process of suicide and rebirth.
As Borden (Christian Bale) walks out of Angier’s storage facility, surrounded by flames as the building burns down, I was reminded of a similar shot from Barton Fink (1991).
It’s also quite fun to imagine who would win in a battle between Wolverine and Batman, though that’s a different sort of connection.