Friday, October 20, 2006

Movie Review: The Prestige - Oh My God! Simply Mindblowing

Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called "The Pledge"; The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn"; The magician makes his ordinary some thing do something extraordinary. Now if you're looking for the won't find it, that's why there's a third act called, "The Prestige"; this is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before.

Have you come out of a theater believing that no praise can be too high for a movie? Have you watched a movie like Memento and thought "this director can never beat this" and then you were proved wrong? Chris Nolan is genius. I know that this is not his story. But the non-linearity of this script, the style, the dialogs , the depth - words simply fail me while describing this work of art. Recursion is an art. Understanding recursion takes some sense. Explaining it to people is an art. Doing that with a wink and style is pure magic. That is what this movie is all about - pure magic both literally and metaphorically.

Two magicians, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale share one thing in common - an obsession for the art of magic. They are so taken in by the art of deception that they would go to any lengths, to any extreme to earn that applause from the audience. You would like to believe that this story is told in early 20th century but you don't really know. There are trains, old horse drawn carts. This is a time when Edison has a mafia team that works against Tesla (The guy had something to do with Magnetic forces?). The names, I guess are a tribute to those scientists. These two magicians start together in the same team but circumstances force them to become enemies and they are engaged in this constant one-upmanship over the other that just drives them to the extreme.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion. If you thought the backward-forward style of narrating a story in Memento was confusing, then this one really takes the cake. It swiftly cuts back and forth in time seamlessly. It is unapologetic about this. But yet, you know exactly what "time" the story is narrating currently. You have to come up to pace very quickly and concentrate really hard to know 'when' the things that are shown to be happening are indeed happening and exactly 'what' is happening. The movie opens with a key scene that is actually the penultimate part of the story's timeline and then much like the beginning it keeps revealing incidents that are much ahead of what(or is it when) the story has progressed. You wonder where somebody's wife has gone? You are told later. You wonder why he suddenly has a limp. You are told later. If you don't notice you never wonder and you miss out on the charm of the whole thing. The graceful back and forth movement is just one of those 'aha' moments.

The other 'aha' aspect is the recursion - the cheater is cheated and being cheated is part of his cheating game and so he still is actually cheating - but the other person knows this and so cheats him at another level. The movie is about magic and magicians and as they talk about the art of magic, the processes and the deception, the movie does the same on you. You are looking - but you are not - and you are constantly trying to find where the trick is and what it exactly is - but you are willing to be fooled at the same time.

Watch the chinese magician in the beginning, he is a sample for this movie. The concept of what level of sacrifice one has to make to make the act sound real is explained so beautifully and has a lasting impact on the movie. [ couldn't resist the analogy alert: I found people call fork() function and becoming two processes that share same memory and call "kill -9" on the other process :-) ( I gave too much away)]. The point of all this is - who thinks up of all this stuff? Who can conceive such a wonderfully layered idea and present it so well? Imagine the kind of work that needed to have gone to sculpt a movie to this precision. The way Nolan presents this movie is unbelievable. He owns the Noire world. He only shows the stuff in the movie that you want to see. He dabbles a bit in the turns and the pledges but every scene is really a prestige. You see what he wants you to see and you are fooled. Fooled in the micro world he takes you to and you get carried away by the revelation after revelation practically every scene in this movie seems to throw at you. It is a magic show - really - the whole movie is one delightful trick after another. and you are entertained. If somebody talk about pedestrian cinema and compares it to the work of a genius. Nolan is the genius.

To put it simply this is the kind of movie that makes you get those goospimples and makes you fall in love with movies.


Reel Fanatic said...

Wow ... great review .. I was already excited to see this one later today, so I'm glad to hear it lives up to the high standards already set by the Nolan brothers

Anonymous said...

Oh yes I so totally Agree it is an AWESOME movie !!!! We were all quiet for 10 mins after the movie.. taking in the whole thing !

And yes it does make u fall in love with movies!!!!:)


Anonymous said...

First of all, I like the way you right reviews..I mean the presentation.

But I think there is little connection between recursion and this movie.
(Maybe one I can think of...this is a movie which fails in its prestige part - My personal opinion was that of the two twists, one was contrived and the other obvious)

Essential to concept of recursion is self reference. I cannot see any self-reference in your apparent explanation of why this movie is recursive "the cheater becoming the cheated...".

If you want to see a movie that has elements of recursion in it watch "Adaptation".

vidhu said...

i couldnt agree more. Nolan is a genius. I was spellbound by Batman begins and will surely catch this one too.

Hawkeye said...

by "self" did you mean - the movie or something within the movie?

btw this is a good discussion and if i thought i was wrong i wud accept so. there is no need for you to be "anononymous" when u r coming up with good comments.

Vijayanand said...

Yes, Self reference occurs when we define something using itself.

For eg. f(n) = f(n-1) *n
or the sentence "This is a sentence".

Self reference is essential for recursion.

The movie adaptation is recursive because it is really a movie about the making of itself.

Hawkeye said...


thats only if you define "self" to refer to the movie. is that correct?

btw the equation you put out there is actually a 'causal' system.

recursion is more like

func() {


as simple as that.

Aashun said...

nicely said but just a small glitch in the analogy:"I found people call fork() function and becoming two processes that share same memory..."
When you fork a process, child process doesnot share the same memory. That's the precise reason why threads exist.

Anonymous said...

Yes ,I am assuming the "self" to be movie here. I agree there are other avenues for recursion...but I dont think you have explained that clearly in your post. (or I have not understood).

btw, there is no difference between the equation and your definition. What I have written as an equation can be expressed as a recursive function in a PL. Infact recursion in PL tries to mimic recursive functions in mathematics just like a function in PL tries to mimic a function in mathematics.

Hawkeye said...

/* I found people call fork() function and becoming two processes that share same memory..*/

i agree. it should have been same text - not same memory.

but curious question. do you know what a C.O.W is?

Ritesh said...

but curious question. do you know what a C.O.W is?

nice point hawkeye. Copy On Write is what is prevalant now. it is when a new process created as a result of fork() operates out of the same memory space as the parent process. When it has to write and alter memory a copy of the address space that has to be modified is created.

COW is done because most fork() are followed by execve() and so it is expensive and useless to copy entire memory segment. good point though :-)

Aashun said...

I am fully aware of COW. I don't want to start a flame war here, not by forking a movie review anyway :-)

Hawkeye said...


did not mean to offend you. I realize its been a while since i have dealt with such topics and i got excited. half way thro my reply to you, i thought of it and i thought i shld ask it. i did not intend to indicate that u did not know COW.