Magic act

Take one of those paper snowflakes that kids still make in kindergarten by folding a paper four or six times and then cutting it through in little triangles. Take it and crush it in the palm of your hand. Wad it up good. Clench your hand hard on it for a minute.

Then let go.

Watch it unfold again, bit by bit. See the intricate design start to re-appear, slowly, centimeter by centimeter, paper facet by paper facet. Uncurling crisply, there in your palm, with little crinkle-crackle sounds.


You see the title -- two words, superimposed over a slow tracking shot of an outdoor field that is full of top hats. Top hats, top hats, everywhere, tumbling on top of each other in a light, playful breeze.

You hear a voice -- it's Borden's voice, but you don't know that yet -- asking "Are you watching closely?" And as you hear it, we cut to a shot of --

Doves in a cage. Another voice comes in, explaning "Every magic trick has three parts, or acts --" An old man (part of you exlaims to yourself "It's Michael Caine!") reaches into the cage and lightly grasps a dove. He takes it out and shows it to an adorable little girl in a quaint dress from a long ago era. He continues, advising the little girl that the first part of every magic trick is called The Pledge -- "A magician shows you something quite ordinary" --

And we see a magician on a stage -- we don't know yet that this is Angier -- in front of a large audience, raising his arms. The curtain goes up behind him, revealing some sort of wondrous machine. The audience applauds --

And we're back to the old man, whose name is Cutter although we don't know that yet, either, putting the dove into a cage, and covering the cage with a cloth --

As the magician's female assistant, a woman we've never seen before (and will never see again, another minor point that will become very important later on), points to several men in the audience, allowing them to come up and inspect the machine themselves --

--but wait! One of the men is sneaking back stage, telling a stagehand who tries to stop him that he's 'part of the act' --

On stage, the magician takes his coat off as the machine starts up in a crackle of electricity, giving off a brilliant, frightening barrage of lightning bolts --

-- below the stage, we see the intruder go up to another stage hand and look in his eyes, closely -- the stagehand is clearly blind --

-- we return to old Cutter, who has made the cage and the dove disappear, explaining that this is called The Turn, and is the second part of the act --

-- on stage, the magician (Angier) turns slowly, stately and dignified, then moves into the machine, where he is surrounded by crashing electrical bolts, closing his eyes, opening his mouth, his facial muscles taut with pain, and determination, and... perhaps... fear...?

-- we see Borden beneath the stage, looking away from the blind man, now -- he sees a large square glass tank, full of water -- his eyes widen in -- surprise? Shock? Even... fear...?

-- the lightnings flash, and reach visual crescendo! Under cover of the blinding glare, a trapdoor opens beneath the magician's feet -- he drops into the tank full of water below the stage --

-- the old man, Cutter, gestures and lets a dove fly free from his other hand, as the little girl applauds in delight --

-- Borden, eyes wide, watches in obvious horror as Tangier pounds on the glass of the tank, screaming for help within the water, drowning --

-- the old man is on the witness stand, testifying that he saw someone slip below stage that night, and followed him -- it was Borden, and he was watching Angier drown --

-- we cut to Borden, in the dock, in chains --

That is the first three minutes and thirty two seconds of The Prestige.

The Prestige unfolds like that paper snowflake I was talking about. Its presentation of events is non-linear; the narrative jumps from one point in time to another every couple of minutes. Each particular facet of story you see gives you exactly enough information to proceed to the next presented moment. Information comes from every direction. This is Borden. This is Angier. This is Cutter. Angier is dead -- or is he? Borden is on trial for Angier's murder -- why? Oh, this is where Borden and Angier first met. This is how Angier's wife dies, and why he blames Borden. This is where the rivalry, the mutual obsession with each other's destruction, begins. This is how it proceeds -- back and forth. Up time and down. Minute by scattered minute, scene by disconnected scene.

Each man has a secret. Each man perfects a trick, an amazing trick, a trick no one can ever figure out, a trick each of them will kidnap, maim, murder, steal, blackmail, even die to protect and/or steal from the other.

The pledge.

The turn.

The Prestige.

Tremendous movie. Go watch it.

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