Why do we enjoy magic? Our minds are surely telling us that we know there’s a trick involved: some sort of deception which is being performed right in front of our eyes. And yet, even though we know it’s not real, we still watch with bated breath to await the return of an object which disappeared just moments before. Sure, we can use the excuse that it’s entertainment, but the reason goes a little deeper than that: hope. Deep within our souls, we long for the magic to be real. We hope that the world which has been long defined by physics’ many laws has somehow found a loophole and the magician has found a way to exploit it. 2006 was the year of magicians. There were not one, not two, but three different movies released that year about stage magicians. This week’s two films are probably the best magician movies to come out of 2006.
Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours
Surely the most gritty and realistic of the three magician movies, The Prestige came out hot on the heels of Christopher Nolan’s success with Batman Begins. Even though the two films share some of their main cast, The Prestige manages to really explore the depth of human commitment past a longing to protect a thankless city. As with Nolan’s previous and future works, this film has a great depth as well as a few surprising twists which will shock the audience into the realization that magicians will do absolutely anything in order to be the best in the business. And yet, Nolan took on something with this film which sets it apart from his other works: adhering to a historical period far from the modern era. Somehow, the Victorian age made the competition between two magicians seem that much more cutthroat.
The film begins with Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) on trial for the death of rival magician, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), which was the culmination of a series of sabotages that each performed on the other in order to become the best magician in London. Angier blamed Borden for the drowning death of his wife, an assistant in the magic show they were both apprentices for. Since Borden now has a wife and child, Angier causes a bullet catch trick to go awry, blowing off two of Borden’s fingers. In revenge, Borden causes Angier’s bird cage act to injure an audience member. However, when Angier starts to imitate an illusion Borden created called The Transported Man, Borden sabotages that trick so Angier breaks his leg. With the score now Angier: 1 / Borden: 2, a final attempt to re-create the trick causes Borden to be accused of Angier’s murder, thus losing his child to the mysterious Lord Caldlow.
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours
Definitely much lighter than The Prestige, The Illusionist takes place around the same time period, but in Vienna instead of London. And yet, while the former film linked to the historical figure of Nikola Tesla in a fictional way, The Illusionist is loosely based on some actual historical events involving Austrian royalty. What is also an interesting homage in the film is the connection to silent-film director, Sergei Eisenstein. While Tesla may have been a wizard with electricity, Eisenstein considered himself an illusionist due to his ability to trick audiences into thinking they were watching actual events, instead of staged ones (based on reactions to The Battleship Potemkin). And yet, the rivalry explored in this film is more one of a romantic persuasion than one of a professional rivalry between two magicians.
Self-taught magician, Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton) has come back to his home of Austria and has set up a stage show which has attracted the attention of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who attends one of his shows. When Eisenheim asks for a volunteer, Leopold offers up his fiancée: Dutchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel). When he asks if they’ve ever met before, she unknowingly lies by saying that they haven’t. In fact, Sophie and Eisenheim (at the time known as Eduard) were childhood friends. The Crown Prince is so impressed by the show that he gets a private performance in the castle, where Eisenheim makes a fool of the Prince. After being banned, Eisenheim returns with a show that is simple, but appears to be closer to witchcraft than magic. Things spiral out of control until almost everyone is dead. And yet, the trick is that some of them have a happy ending.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magician movies