The Prestige analysis

The 2006 film about rival magicians desperately trying to learn the secrets of each others tricks.
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A little different...

Like my Memento essay (viewtopic.php?f=10&t=9374&start=20#p404583) I got a 100 on my The Prestige essay and so I have to translate it for my lecturer. I'm only translating my favorite parts for him which is what I'm putting here now, I will later translate and add the whole thing, as I did with Memento :)

I'd love to hear what you think. While I loved writing the Memento essay and I was really proud of it, this one is different, harder, and in a way I found it more inspiring when coming up with these things, for my own scripts.

Note the first bit explains what you need to know to understand the latter. What are Mythologies (we had to pick a few Mythologies in a film and write about them), as we were meant to analyse them. We see Mythologies as a language - in a movie it's the cinematic language (anything from costumes to camera angles to dialogue and whatever). That's all you basically need to know to understans this :)

Apologies for my English, not my first language and this is translated from Hebrew.


Mythologies in The Prestige

[intro]........

The Myth is eternal. It yearns to lift the object and make it a legend. The history freezes and remains forever, the Myth sticks. The Myth tells us how to live, while science tells us how to think. In Myths we're on "automatic". When you follow a Myth, you live by it. It turns the history into nature (Barthes, 1998: 258), values, something you can count on. The Myth isn't the object or idea itself, it is the means of interpretation. According to Barthes, Mythologies are a language.
[...]
Barthes translates Mythologies into semiotic terms. He distinguishes between two types of semiotic languages – regular languages, which are not mythological, and the language of Myth which distorts the first language. The Myth "increases" the signifier. Since the proportions change, it changes the the signified and the entire equation, and so the interpretation of the object changes [don't worry if you don't understand this bit]. The new object is the Mythological object.
[...]
The consumer of the Myth needs to come with an intention. He needs to be a part of the society of which the Myth could be a part of. You can not prove or disprove a Myth. Myths belong in the realm of beliefs and they're untouchable. You're a slave to the Myth you grew up to believe in.
However, there are two ways to kill a Myth. The first is slaughtering it, a cruel demise. Its results would shock the consumer's world to the core. The second is "death in time". The aging of the Myth in contradiction to the renewable society.

The main Myth in The Prestige is the Magic Show, similar to Barthes' 'le catch' (Barthes, 1998: 17-28)...
The viewer doesn't concern oneself in the 'development of fates'. The viewer is only interested in fulfilling his own passions and desires. Once the magician appears on stage, the audience knows exactly what his role is. His purposefulness is so defined, it requires that the Magic Show would be exactly as the audience expects it to be.
[...]
An example can be seen in the scene where Angier performs his final version of the Transported Man for the first time, successfully. The scene is extremely detailed. Tesla's electric machine which creates sparks, at a time in which electricity was rare, which certainly enhances the audience's spectacle. Close-ups on members of the audience, especially Borden, whose jealousy and wonder are clear. Angier's prestige shot as he reappears, many meters away from the stage, increase of the signifier - Angier is shot entirely, from below, above the audience and says "A man's reach exceeds his imagination". He just broke the rules of science, he became a legend. Later in the film it becomes apparent that the reason for this is not because Angier wanted to make himself a legend, but rather, he did this to see "the looks on their [the audience's] faces". To fulfill their passions. The Myth of the Magic Show.

The film's goal is to break this Myth. To bring the backstage into the front of the stage. To emphasize the loss and the sacrifice that the magicians go through in order to wow the audience, and on the other hand, the films tries to make the viewer understand that in the eyes of the artist, the magician, the director - it is worth it. If the illusionist (the magician, of the director of the film himself) performs his art successfully, in accordance to the audience's expectations, the audience will only notice what goes on the stage, or screen, and not the work that occurs behind his sight. The work done to build the illusion.

In another scene, where Angier tries to make the cage of a bird disappear, with the bird returning, freed, at the end, as the prestige, he calls members of the audience to come and inspect the cage. He doesn't notice that Borden comes up as well. Borden destroys the cage in another audience member's hands, breaking her fingers and killing the bird, which causes a turmoil among the audience, screams and shock. We see more of the audience's faces rather than the two magicians. The effect of the slaughter of the Myth to its consumers.




This is some of the first Myth. The other one will be revealed when I put the rest up :)

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I read what you have so far, now I know why you scored full marks. Now you need to upload the rest now, great job! :clap:

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Mason wrote:I read what you have so far, now I know why you scored full marks. Now you need to upload the rest now, great job! :clap:


Thank you darling. :tooexcited:

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I wish I could do projects on films. I managed to do it half-way, when I did a report for Nikola Tesla and put clips and info from The Prestige in it. :lol:
Great analysis. You're pretty lucky. What class did you do this report for?

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lalyil wrote: "A man's reach exceeds his imagination".


i fucking love this line. this is Nolan in a nutshell.

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Z. Cobb wrote:
lalyil wrote: "A man's reach exceeds his imagination".


i fucking love this line. this is Nolan in a nutshell.

That quote alone sums up much in life.

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Bacon, the course is called Language, Lino and Culture. It's about how language can be used to describe reality, on one hand, but also to create reality. Easily my fave current course and I'm easily the lecturer's fave student :lol:


Shaz and Mason, funnily enough this quote was actually why I chose to write the paper on this film. This is the language that creates a Myth.

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Intriguing!!! As essay writers know, the purpose of the introduction is to summarise and to create interest.
You certainly have stirred interest in me.

The angle that the film has intentions of it's own, rather than to just show the classic 'descent' story between two magicians intimately; is very interesting. I certainly agree with that idea - that the film wants to reveal that the magician's talent and legacy is considered worthy of the magicians to devote thier entire life to that goal. And the film wants to show how bad thier fates can get.

Definately can't wait for more! :thumbup: I just love talking about The Prestige in general!

Posts: 3257
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Threshold wrote:Intriguing!!! As essay writers know, the purpose of the introduction is to summarise and to create interest.
You certainly have stirred interest in me.

The angle that the film has intentions of it's own, rather than to just show the classic 'descent' story between two magicians intimately; is very interesting. I certainly agree with that idea - that the film wants to reveal that the magician's talent and legacy is considered worthy of the magicians to devote thier entire life to that goal. And the film wants to show how bad thier fates can get.

Definately can't wait for more! :thumbup: I just love talking about The Prestige in general!


Thank you very much! If all goes well I should have the rest up by tomorrow. I was lucky to get a chance to write on my two favorite Nolan films, only compared to Memento, The Prestige is extremely underrated and it's a shame. It has a whole world behind it.

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The full essay is up http://www.essayupload.com/view_essay.php?id=127 :)

I'll also paste it here. Note as said before English isn't my first language and I did translate it quickly so apologies for any grammer mistakes. If you find spelling mistakes let me know and I could at least edit them out on the above link.

Thank you and I hope you enjoy it :D

Mythologies in The Prestige

"Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it because of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled." –The Prestige.

"The Prestige" came out in 2006 and is the fifth film of director-screenwriter-producer, Christopher Nolan. The film is based on the World Fantasy 1995 award winning book by Christopher Priest. The film tells the story of two magicians – Borden and Angier – who begin a rivalry and an obsessive competition with each other. When from the very beginning of the film, it's obvious the ending will be tragic. The narrative of the film is told in three different times – Present, past and distant past. The film is a sort of analogy of the three stages of magic as they are explained in the film – The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige. The film is a mix of period drama with sci-fi fantasy. We will explain Mythologies according to Roland Barthes and later we will analyze the film itself, concentrating on several scenes, according to that theme.

The Myth is eternal. It yearns to lift the object and make it a legend. The history freezes and remains forever, the Myth sticks. The Myth tells us how to live, while science tells us how to think. In Myths we're on "automatic". The Myth defines something historical, cultural as something natural. Myth is nature, values you can count on. When you follow a Myth, you live by it. The Myth isn't the object or idea itself; it is the means of interpretation. According to Barthes, Mythologies are a language.
Barthes translates Mythologies into semiotic terms. He distinguishes between two types of semiotic languages – regular languages, which are not mythological, and the language of Myth which distorts the first language to become Mythological. The Myth "increases" the signifier. Since the proportions change, it changes the signified and the entire equation, and so the interpretation of the object changes. The new object is the Mythological object, in the second language. The Myth uses the regular languages and turns it to nature. As soon as the Mythological meaning takes change, the regular meaning loses its existence and remains as nothing but an empty cover to hide the Myth.

The consumer of the Myth needs to come with an intention. He needs to be a part of the society of which the Myth could be a part of. You cannot prove or disprove a Myth. Myths belong in the realm of beliefs and they're untouchable. Just like religion deals with questions of values and beliefs while science deals with facts. The Myths are a system of beliefs, translated into a system of actions and values and one cannot argue them. You're a slave to the Myth you grew up to believe in. However, there are two ways to kill a Myth. The first is slaughtering it, a cruel demise. Its results would shock the consumer's world to the core. The second is "death in time". The aging of the Myth against the renewable society.

"The connection between the newness born from artistic creation and the sacrifice that makes that newness possible is most often obscured in the work of art and especially in the cinema. The end product serves as a fetish allowing spectators to disavow loss and to experience a false sense of wholeness. The burden of The Prestige lies in exposing it" (McGowan, 2007: 3). In "The Prestige", Christopher Nolan uses editing techniques to create false assumptions; Nolan presents his version of magic. Thus, he shows that the relationship between the magicians and their audience is similar to the relationship between the director and the viewers of the film itself.

The main Myth in The Prestige is the Magic Show, similar to Barthes' 'le catch' (Barthes, 1998: 17-28), only in a magic show instead of wrestling. 'le catch' is considered an extreme spectacle, it has a sort of 'exaggeration' that defined the theatres of ancient times. Barthes simulates the world of 'le catch' to wrestling, but in this world, the sport has no meaning, nor the winner or the loser, but the show means everything. The viewer doesn't concern oneself in the 'development of fates'. The viewer is only interested in fulfilling his own passions and desires at any moment. Once the wrestlers appear in the ring, the audience knows exactly what their roles are. Their purposefulness so defined, it requires that 'le catch' would be exactly as the audience expects it to be. Same as the world of 'le catch' in the Magic Show.

In "The Prestige" the 'le catch' of the Magic Show is shown in the fact that what the magician goes through for the magic act to succeed makes no difference and is of no importance. The only thing that matters is the show, to satisfy the audience and fulfill their expectations and desires, to wow them. The narrative takes place during the industrial revolution, at a time during which magic shows were more common and the audience came with very high expectations, much like the viewers at the cinema, who aren't interested in the sweat, tears and years taken to produce the film, they're only concerned that the final product would satisfy them.

The film's goal is to break this Myth. To bring the backstage to the front of the stage. To emphasize the loss and sacrifice the magicians go through in order to wow the audience, and on the other hand, the films tries to make the viewer understand that in the eyes of the artist, the magician, the director - it is worth it. If the illusionist (the magician or the director of the film himself) performs his art successfully, in accordance to the audience's expectations, the audience will only notice what goes on the stage, or screen, and not the work that occurs beyond their sight. The work done to build the illusion.

An example can be seen in the scene where Angier performs his final version of the trick which is allegedly one of the reasons for his rivalry with Borden, "The Transported Man", for the first time, successfully. The scene is extremely detailed. In the background of the trick stands an electric machine which creates sparks, at a time in which electricity was rare, which certainly enhances the audience's spectacle. Close-ups on members of the audience, especially Borden, whose jealousy and wonder are clear. Angier's prestige shot as he reappears, many meters away from the stage, increase of the signifier - Angier is shot entirely, from below, above the audience and says "A man's reach exceeds his imagination". He just broke the rules of science, he became a legend. One could say he's doing this to make himself a Myth, a legend. However, later in the film the real reason why he does this becomes apparent.

At the end of the film, when Angier is dying, "Borden" who survives says to Angier, "you did terrible things… all for nothing". Angier replies "You never understood why we did this. The audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It's miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you got to see something really special. You really don't know? It was the look on their faces". Angier has one goal, to wow the audience, to fulfill their desires. This way he actually tries to fulfill the Myth of 'le catch' in a Magic Show.

When we try to kill a Myth, we can do it in two ways. A cruel demise would shock the world of the consumer of the Myth. In another scene, where Angier tries to perform a trick to make the cage of a bird disappear, with the bird returning, freed, at the end, as the prestige, he calls members of the audience to come and inspect the cage. He doesn't notice that Borden comes up as well. Borden destroys the cage in another audience member's hands, breaking her fingers and killing the bird, causing turmoil among the audience, screams and shock. We see more of the audience's faces rather than the two magicians. The effect of the slaughter of the Myth to its consumers.

Unlike Angier, Borden doesn't concern himself much with the world of 'le catch'. It feels as if he performs his tricks because he lives his art. When Borden performs the trick of 'The Transported Man' for the first time, Nolan chooses to only show a small part of the trick. He performs it fast, without applause or real reaction from the audience, who seems to be unable to grasp it. The audience who only care that the performer on stage would knows his part – and his part is to wow them. Borden doesn't explain to the audience what is being done, he disappears then reappears. The audience doesn't have enough time to understand the trick. Which is why, in the eyes of the director, the trick makes no difference and we only see its beginning and not its end – the return of Borden. The director shows the envious face of Angier in the audience instead, the only one who truly pays attention to it. Angier who later lets this trick consume him, since he could "perform it better, and give the audience what they want". Indeed, at the very beginning of the film we're told "Borden is a wonderful magician and a dreadful showman".

There's a theme of exaggeration in Angier's performances, the great "showman". As Barthes describes what was done in the ancient theatres, and in accordance to the wrestling matches he analyzes. Exaggeration is the key word. Angier makes his shows extreme, using electricity, stories of death and faraway countries.

Besides the Myth of the Magic Show – the world of 'le catch' – another repeating Myth in the film is 'The Arch Nemesis'. Like in Mythologies of ancient times, or Sherlock Holmes' Moriarty, here we have two rival magicians who are actually equal in "strength" to one another. A rivalry that thrives on ongoing senses vengeance and justice, an unbeatable rivalry. Of course, they both lose all they have and all they are during, until the bitter end. We're on automatic; the Arch Nemesis is always there, in its full power. We see exaggeration here too, of the suffering and the need for vengeance of the heroes.

The rivalry between the two starts with the death of Angier's wife on stage during a show, since Borden tied her hands wrong. Angier keeps asking Borden "which tie did you knot?", but finds it impossible to accept Borden's answer that he doesn't remember. One scene that stands out is when Angier asks Borden that by the grave of his wife. As a hint to the bitter ending and the "burial" of the connection between the two. While many people stand by Angier, Borden stands alone. Angier is filmed entirely, as the powerful one at that moment, and Borden is filmed with just a close-up from the side, to emphasize his loneliness. A situation that shifts and switches between the two until the end of the film. They're always equal. The situation always balances off.

Later, the two hurt each other physically. Borden loses his wife as well and they both lose a lover to one another because of their obsession to hurt one another. When Borden first performs 'The Transported Man', Angier goes crazy trying to figure out his secret, how he does it. Although his partner, Cutter, tells him then that "Borden uses a double", Angier refuses to accept it. Accepting it would slaughter the Myth, the obsession, the rivalry that drives him all this time. From that moment on, the "reason" for the rivalry becomes – discovering the secret. However, when Borden is finally prepared to reveal it, when he's about to lose everything, Angier tears the paper which explains the trick to pieces and isn’t willing to accept it. Because the secret makes no difference anymore. The secret and the death of Angier's wife are the history – the Myth, the rivalry, sticks and stays forever. The will to beat that man, who's equal to him, drives his life.

Moreover, there's a scene where Angier speaks to his lover, who mentions that his ongoing rivalry with Borden "won't bring your [dead] wife back". Angier answers aggressively that "I don't care about my wife, I care about his secret". His aggressiveness and the lover's shocked face as the increase of the signifier. Highlighting the eternal rivalry between the two. That, with the tearing apart of the trick's secret in the end, makes it clear we're on "automatic". That this is just an extreme desire to beat the other. In the end, after both magicians die, and all that's left is "Borden" – or his twin brother – it's obvious the two were equal. This is why one couldn't beat the other. As long as they would have been alive, they would have been rivals.

In conclusion, director Christopher Nolan used cinematic language in order to make history into nature, to increase the signifier and therefore changing the signified and the object. Using these tools we found two Mythologies in the film. The analogy between the world of magic and the world of cinema in the film, makes it clear that the director wished to highlight what happens backstage or behind the camera, and therefore brings forward a situation where all Myths die a cruel demise which always shocks the audience and viewers.




Bibiliography

Barthes, R, 1998: Mythologies Tel Aviv, Babel.
McGowan, T, 2007: The Violence of Creation in The Prestige Vermont, University of Vermont, p. 3.
Last edited by Liron on June 2nd, 2012, 1:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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