The Illusionist vs. The Prestige: One is Magic, the Other Tedious

Edward Norton as Eisenheim The Illusionist

Two movies hit the theaters in 2006, both of them period dramas, and both exploring the subject of magic, magicians, and illusion. One was called The Illusionist. The other was The Prestige. But even though The Prestige starred two of my favorite actors — Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale — and The Illusionist starred Edward Norton, who was unknown to me at the time, I bought The Illusionist, but never had a desire to see The Prestige again.

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in “The Prestige”

While The Illusionist probes the secrets of life and death, space and time, fate and chance, and what it means to be mortal, along with the human fascination for proof of life after death, The Prestige focuses on the practical science behind the “magic”, but searches and longs for something more illusive. The difference is that the one keeps its viewers deeply involved, while the other has impulsive and bewildering scene changes.

Furthermore, between Edward Norton’s quietly intense, mesmerizing performance as Eisenheim, and the mysterious rise and fall of the Paul Glass score in The Illusionist, the last vestiges of this world meld seamlessly into the world of 1889 Vienna in Austria-Hungary.

On the other hand, the quixotic friendship/rivalry of Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), keeps those characters at arm’s length, with the viewer never quite being able to “bond” with either of them. The spastic quality of The Prestige makes it hard to follow, and even harder to care about. Sometimes, at the theater, I considered going for popcorn. I couldn’t be any less confused if I missed five minutes.

The Illusionist holds out the question of “is it magic or merely illusion”, to the very end, while The Prestige keeps the viewer so befuddled he no longer cares where it’s going. The only exception I’ve seen is this one reviewer who insists that confusion is art. Fine. He can have it. He also insists that the movie allows the viewer to fill in the blanks. Sheesh. If I wanted to write the script I’d stay home and save the cost of a ticket.

In The Illusionist, Eisenheim’s first performance in Vienna plays to a packed theater. The on-stage monologue as he introduces a never-before-seen illusion to his new audience, is riveting. While tossing an orange lazily back and forth, he talks about time:

From the moment we enter this life we measure it, we mark it, but we cannot defy it. We cannot speed it up, or slow it down. Or can we? Have we not each experienced the sensation that a beautiful moment seems to pass too quickly . . . (the orange plummets from high to low from one hand to the other) . . . and wished that we could make it linger? (The orange drops again, but as the audience gasps, it wafts slowly downward). Or felt time slow on a dull day , and wished that we could speed things up a bit?

He slices the orange and removes a single seed, placing it into a vase. In a moment, a slim green stalk rises over the lip of the vessel, growing increasingly taller. Green leaves sprout. A tree forms. Fruit appears. He picks an orange from off the tree and tosses it into the audience. There is a collective gasp, and a look of incredulous wonder passes over the face of Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giomatti), who determines to investigate this mysterious and sensational newcomer.

But it happens that the ambitious Inspector Uhl is under the thumb of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who reigns on a hotbed of royal intrigue and murder. Yet, though Leopold holds out the promise of a higher social status for the low-born detective, in the end Uhl must choose between ambition and betrayal, between patriotism and treason, and between his conscience and his duty.

On the other hand, Eisenheim must watch his childhood sweetheart fall into the hands of the vain prince, who is barely one brain cell shy of a psychopath. Leopold invites Eisenheim to perform at the palace, but throws down the challenge that he will gather all his best minds to unmask the conjurer’s deceptions. Eisenheim bows.

“Then I’ll prepare something special,” he says. “Perhaps I’ll make you disappear.”


Here is a link to an excellent review with a little different, but enjoyable flavor. Enjoy.


56 thoughts on “The Illusionist vs. The Prestige: One is Magic, the Other Tedious

  1. “Sheesh. If I wanted to write the script I’d stay home and save the cost of a ticket.”

    LOL Great line, Linda.

    I have both of these movies on DVD and love them equally, largely because they both have such terrific casts. Edward Norton is a brilliant actor and I’m glad you’ve discovered him. I first saw him many years ago in a movie titled “Primal Fear” and he absolutely blew me away. It was his first major role. You should watch it sometime. Here’s a clip from the movie…which has a great twist. You’ll have to excuse the language; the whole movie isn’t full of it though.

    • That’s one of my disappointments with “The Prestige”. I went to the movies to see it with great expectation mainly because of Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. They are usually outstanding. I’m also a fan of Michael Caine. This cast by itself should make just about any film a classic. And I was eagerly anticipating the story. It’s as if they had a hat they threw the scenes in and picked them out at random instead of following some kind of logical sequence. And even though I really tried to get into the characters , , , well, you can’t actually warm up to a Mexican jumping bean.

      By the way. Since you are also a Christian Bale fan, have you seen the older movie “Reign of Fire”? That’s the first time he came onto my radar. He definitely has the “IT factor” when he’s on-screen. Can’t say as much for his personal life, but that’s the story for the majority of actors. He is awesome in Flowers of War. He makes you totally believe his character.

      I have been a fan of Edward Norton since “The Illusionist”. Ever since then I recognize him on older movies now, but didn’t realize he was in “Primal Fear”. I couldn’t watch an entire minute of that one because the language filled at least 59 seconds of it. And from what I gathered, the subject of the plot is so depressing it would make half it’s audience suicidal. I can’t even watch that kind of stuff on the news. The brutality to children was the main reason it was so hard to watch “Flowers of War”.

      I don’t know if you realized that Edward Norton played the first (I think) Hulk in “The Incredible Hulk”. I’m a great super hero fan, but that one was hideous. It was (this may sound funny) cartoonish. I want to suspend disbelief when I’m watching them. From what I do remember of it, Norton was good enough with what he was given. But I really liked Mark Ruffalo as “The Hulk”. I don’t know if it was him, the script writing, or if he just fit the character better. I had noticed Ruffalo before. In a way, his acting reminds me of Norton’s. They both have a subdued but powerful presence.

  2. “confusion is art”? Well, I guess confusion is a response one can evoke in the audience, so perhaps it could theoretically be. Being confusing, in and of itself, is far to easy. Using confusion to mask a deeply inter-connected and clever plot would be art, but simply being confusing is showing a lack of grasp of one’s art.

    • Yes, the merits of a film can very well be argued, but that argument just made me shake my head. I’ve known people who thought if something could be understood at all it wasn’t art. Well, something of the meaning should get across. But abrupt and confusing scene changes where you can’t figure out where a plot is going in a movie smacks of something else besides art. Or maybe I was just tired and not hitting all six cylinders that day. That happens, too. (Chuckle).

  3. Maybe i’m odd, but I didn’t find “The Prestige” at all confusing.

    I’ve been a Christian Bale fan since he made Empire of the Sun when he was a child. I’m sure you’ve seen that movie. He’s amazing in it. And yes, I’ve seen Reign of Fire. It had another of my favorites in it, Gerard Butler.

    I’m not a superhero fan. I’ve never seen a Hulk movie, or any of the Hellboy films. I haven’t even seen any of the Iron Man movies, but I plan to someday because I like Robert Downey, Jr.. And I have The Avengers in my Netflix queue. I’ve seen the newest Spider-Man movie because I like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone very much and the Batman movies with Christian Bale in them. I’ll probably see the new Superman movie when it’s available on DVD because I think Henry Cavill is gorgeous. I find superhero movies rather silly and only watch the ones I do because of who is in them.

    Rough language in a movie doesn’t bother me in the slightest….it’s just words. But gratuitous gore and violence definitely does. I don’t like bloody, scary movies at all. I’m sorry you didn’t watch the video clip I posted. Edward Norton plays a murderer with a split personality, as shown in that clip The other personality shows itself at a point that I guess was after you quit watching it. Since I assume you’ll never see the movie, Richard Gere defends him in court in spite of knowing he’s guilty and gets him off. The twist is at the end when Norton reveals that he doesn’t have a split personality at all and had been faking the meek persona all along to avoid conviction.

    I watched Always last night. It was such a tear jerker that it almost made me laugh. The acting was good though. I loved John Goodman and Holly Hunter. All the fire fighting action was well done. This just doesn’t seem like a Spielburg movie. I spotted Marg Helgenberger (the red head) who looked so young I almost didn’t recognize her. She was on CSI for years. I recognized Brad Johnson, who played the young flyer Ted Baker, as the Marlboro Man in TV ads. Just checked to see what else he’s been in, but I’ve never heard of them. He and his wife have EIGHT kids. He probably doesn’t have time to make movies anymore. ;>)

    • Well, not finding it confusing is a lot better than finding it confusing and considering it art. Good grief. But, as I told another commentor, the merits of a film are always arguable, and I could have been having a bad brain day that day. It happens. But I just didn’t like it enough to even give it another try. And that’s astonishing considering how much I loved the cast, if not the characters.

      The plot you mentioned about Primal Fear doesn’t sound like the one I thought it was. I must be getting it mixed up with something else. Still can’t take the language, though. It’s like being slapped in the face over over again. The wanton use of it highly offends me on screen and in real life. The other things you mentioned like gratuitous gore and violence (and sex) are also a part of my no-fly zone. I have to ask if the language is necessary to the story for character, and even then not dominating the dialogue.

      Sorry you didn’t find “Always” as eternally good as I did. I might have found it maudlin if the acting wasn’t so believable. I just fell in love with the characters. The only thing that was out of place for me was the angel — and I know this was Audrey Hepburn’s last appearance before she died — but that part was more than a bit much for me. I fast forward through it because it’s not really necessary. Richard Dreyfuss could have been a short, lingering, loving ghost without the tall angel from heaven. chuckle. — EIGHT kids in this modern era of one to none as a family size? Wow! Papa and Granny had 13 kids and when Papa was still alive my Uncle Dennis asked him how he ever found time to farm. Ha.

      Yes. Gerard Butler is a long-time favorite of mine, also, and I discovered him, too, in Reign of Fire. Then Phantom of the Opera cemented that place of favoritism for good.

      I don’t know who Hellboy is. I must have missed that one, but the name says it’s probably one of those excruciating excuses for fire and brimstone and a lot of death, gore, and violence. Oops. Wrong order. I’m also not a big Batman fan, though I loved the first two or three of them the best. Liked the first one Christian Bale starred in, but not the Dark Knight.

      I saw Empire of the Sun too long ago to remember much about it, but I had seen some interviews with Christian Bale where that role came up. I need to see it again.

      I loved all three of the Iron Man movies because Robert Downy, Jr. IS Iron Man. Who would have thought he would do that part so well. But he is a fantastic actor. Can’t think of anything I haven’t loved him in, but, of course, I’m sure I haven’t seen them all. And The Avengers. Love ’em. There are SOOO many wrongs to right and so little time and I’m always ready to watch ’em do it. (LOL) I’m always ready to suspend disbelief if the acting’s good and the men are good looking. Hope you like them.

      You know so many actors by name you make my head spin. I thought I had a lot of favorites on my instant recall list, but boy you have me beat. You also already knew Benedict Cumberbatch – a name I had never heard of in my life – when he became Sherlock Holmes. Speaking of which, after you mentioned the show, Mike started watching some when I was off doing something else because I never would sit down long enough to watch it. The American version of Sherlock with the Asian-woman-Watson kind of turned us both off of any new ideas on Holmes. But, Mike told me you were right and this BBC show was great. So I said what the heck. It can’t be any worse than some of the stuff I’ve seen in the past few years. — MY GOSH!!!! That show is GREAT, with all capital letters. See . . . where you made your mistake was you didn’t put it in all caps like you were screaming it at me. Ha. I played the pilot again today for sister Katie. She went wild over it and is going to strong-arm Randy into watching. She knows what’s good for him even if he doesn’t. Mike and I are just about watching one a night and from what I’m reading there have only been six episodes, with more in the works, but not ready yet. And where did you dig up a guy with a name like Benedict Cumberbatch before this series? What did he play in?

      And why can’t American TV producers ever get shows that good? Surely there are one or two American writers with enough intellect to come up with some originality and wit. Oh, yeah. I think A&E grabbed them up. I’m loving BBC and A&E. Thanks for putting us onto Sherlock. Hope the next season comes out before we plow through these six. We’re hooked.

      • “I have to ask if the language is necessary to the story for character, and even then not dominating the dialogue.”

        If the language is appropriate for the way a character would talk (a gangster, gang member, etc.) it doesn’t bother me. Much of the time they talk that way because they lack any other vocabulary, but I don’t like it in a story where it doesn’t fit and is used only for effect. In Primal Fear, it represented the charater’s rage with everything in his life.

        “Maudlin” is the perfect word to use in describing how I felt about Always. I didn’t DISlike it. How could I when I love Somewhere in Time? Movies don’t get much more “soapy” than that. Holly Hunter is terrific in every movie she makes. John Goodman can always ge counted on to get a funny line delivered perfectly. I just couldn’t see Richard Dreyfus as romantic. Maybe that’s because I kept seeing him on the boat with Robert Shaw in Jaws. LOL I didn’t find the dialogue written for him to be believable. I know what you mean about Audrey Hepburn’s angel. I could definitely have done without that.

        I can’t even imagine having 13 children, but it’s was common years ago, especially if you farmed and needed the children to help.

        Have you seen Gerald Butler and Hilary Swank in P. S. I Love You? It’s a very ususual love story and was the movie that made me a Butler fan. See it if you can, it’s wonderful. Machine Gun Preacher is another of his films that I think is excellent. Like you, I loved him in Phantom.

        I saw Thor (love Chris Hemsworth) and discoverd Tom Huddleston (Loki) thanks to that movie. That’s the reason I want to see The Avengers. They’re both in it. The only Batman movies I’ve seen are with Christian Bale and the one Heath Ledger made just before he died. The latter was mostly curiosity to see Heath. You may not be familiar with the Hellboy movies, but I’m sure you’ve seen a photo of the character. He’s played by Ron Perlman. There have been three Hellboy movies so far, but I’ve never seen them.

        I’m going to post this then talk about Benedict and Sherlock in my next reply. I’m afraid if I go on too long, WordPress will eat my words.

      • The gangster case is how I felt about Road to Perdition. That was an excellent movie, though I gave a warning about the language and violence at the end of the post. I think that may have been one of my very first ones. I still can’t watch Scarface with what’s his name, though. I tried once. If anybody found a way to cut all the four letter words out of that movie it would be a silent one.

        I laughed out loud when I read that you kept seeing Richard Dreyfus on the boat with Robert Shaw. However, I must confess I’ve always found Richard Dreyfus kind of cute. It’s not his looks, it’s his personality and confidence. But, as in movies and music, my taste in what constitutes a good-looking leading man is eclectic. Of course, you know the ones like Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, but I’ve gotten sneers from my peers over the likes of Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson. I’m sorry. I just like the men on-screen to be confident and self-assured (according to their role, that is). So Richard Dreyfus is my shameful little romantic figure secret.

        I haven’t seen P.S I Love You, but noticed it on something the other day – either Netflix or Amazon – and wondered if it would be any good. I’ll check it out.

        Yeah, I’m familiar with Ron Perlman. I like medieval period dramas and he’s played in several of those. There was something else he played in recently, but can’t recall what it was. He’s played sword-swinging knights and may have given hell on the battlefield, but I’ve never considered him as a “Hellboy”. Will have to look up a video.

        I sometimes have to eat my words. I should have realized by now that I could get WordPress to do it for me. Ha. I’ve had three cups of coffee this evening, which is three more than I usually have. I’m wired. I’ll never get to sleep. And if you want to, you’ll have to ignore me.

  4. I watch A LOT of movies and many of them are foreign and especially British. That was how I discovered Benedict Cumberbatch. The first movie of his I saw was a British made-for-TV film titled Fields of Gold. Next, more or less in order, were Hawking (he played Stephen Hawking), Starter for 10 (starred James McAvoy), Amazing Grace (he played William Pitt), Atonement (based on the book by Ian McEwan, which is fantastic), The Other Boleyn Girl (about Anne Boleyn), The Last Enemy (a terrific British mini-series that I have on DVD), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, Parade’s End (another great British mini-series), and finally Sherlock. But he’s been in lots of things I still haven’t seen. I’m not a Star Trek fan, but I plan to watch the new Star Trek film because he’s received rave reviews for his villain role in it.

    There are only a few episodes in each of season one and two and I have the DVDs. Filming is currently well underway for season 3 and season 4 has already been green lighted. Season 3 will air here sometime in 2014 and starts in the UK this fall.

    I’m so glad you’ve discovered Shelock. I suppose you know the actor who plays Watson is the lead, Bilbo Baggins, in the new trilogy of The Hobbit. I watched the first episode of Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and couldn’t stomach it. Never watched it again. Didn’t care much for the Robert Downey Sherlock movies either, but they were definitely better than the TV show, Elementary.

    Here’s Benedict’s IMDb page. His bio infor in fascinating. He’s naturally a blond, but I love his Sherlock hair. His father and mother are also actors and very good looking. As you can see, he’s been very busy lately cranking out one project after another in rapid succession.

    • Oh my gosh! Mike and Katie are going to freak, just like I’m doing. I didn’t recognize Watson as Bilbo Baggins. I knew his name was familiar, but couldn’t place it. What a dunce I am!!! And I OWN Amazing Grace, though I’ve never been able to get Mike to watch it. I’m going to have to make a list of all these movies and mini-series you’ve mentioned. I’ll also have to put Atonement on my reading list. I’ve seen War Horse, but didn’t equate that character with Sherlock — I mean Benedict. I’ve always wanted to see The Other Boleyn Girl, but for some reason just have not. And I have watched the trailer for the new Star Trek many times. I must be getting worse about facial recognition. I used to be good till I got old. I can’t wait till 2014 for a new Sherlock. We’ve almost used them all up now. I can’t wait till everybody wakes up in the morning to tell them about Bilbo Baggins in his alter ego as Dr. Watson. Wow! You’ve given me a lot to think about. It’ll be 2 in the morning before I get over the mental adrenalin and the three cups of coffee . . . and the two cream cheese danishes. When I have movie company like I did today I don’t want anything to eat that’s good for me. I watched Somewhere in Time with Tammy this morning, and Sherlock and Longmire with Katie this afternoon.

      • I had to laugh when I read you comment. You are going to be SOOO sorry you ever met me. I’ll keep you busy for the rest of your life recommending movies and books. Hee !

        Martin Freeman has had a full plate filming the three Hobbit movies AND Sherlock at the same time. I’m so happy for him though. He’s such a good actor.

        The Other Boleyn Girl is good. Scarlett Johansen plays Anne and she’s terrific.

        I have watching Somewhere in Time again on my to do list for this weekend. Now I want to watch P. S. I Love You again, too.

        In addition to reading Atonement, you should also watch the movie. It has a great cast….Kiera Knightly, Saoirse Ronan in her first film, Vanessa Redgrave, James McAvoy, as well as Benedict.

      • I gotta see all these. And I’ve loved Scarlett Johanson ever since she played The Black Widow in the Avengers. Katie and I are very ticky about women in kick-butt roles. Some can pull it off, while others just make us want to barf. There’s a fine line between being a tough woman and being a woman who thinks she has to look and act like a man to be tough. Scarlett Johanson walked that line and did it beautifully.

  5. Ron Perlman is famous now for playing the role of Clay on Sons of Anarchy. It’s one of my absolute favorite TV shows, but it would not be your cup of tea. It’s full of violence, but credible violence considering it’s about a California motorcycle club that’s much more than a “club.” And I won’t even mention the language. ;>)

    I liked Road to Perdition a lot. The actor you can’t think of who played Scarface is Al Pacino. I liked that movie quite a bit, too.

    I can see the appeal of Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson. As for a type, I like tall mean (at least 6 ft.) and lean. I don’t go at all for the overly muscled type. I just like to see that they DO have some muscle definition, but body builders? No way. My husband is 6′ 3″ and USED to be lean. But then….I used to be, too. Neither of us is seriously overweight now, but we could both stand to lose some pounds.

    Oh yes, do check out P. S. I Love You. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

    I don’t remember Ron Perlman ever playing a sword-swinging medieval knight, but then he’s made a lot of movies. Hellboy is a sci-fi character…not sure he’s considered a superhero, but I think he is. Here’s the trailer for Hellboy II. There’s a Hellboy III now, but I don’t see a trailer for it.

    • The overly muscled type are yuk. I don’t know any women who actually do like them. I’ll try to think of the movie I saw sometime in the past year with Ron Perlman. He was a Crusade knight in the Holy Land. Then he and his sidekick went back to England and got into it with King John, who was played by Paul Giomatti.

      • Yes. It was Ironclad. Loved that movie, though it didn’t get any good reviews. I didn’t care. Liked it anyway. You’re right. Ron Perlman played in Season of the Witch. I think I’m right this time.

      • Ah yes, Season of the Witch was a Nicolas Cage movie. I haven’t seen it because I’m not a Cage fan. Didn’t realize Perlman was in it, too. Ron Perlman is one of the busiest actors in film and TV today. I can’t believe how fast he turns out new projects.

  6. About coffee….I drink it all day AND all evening. I think at this point I’m immune to caffeine. It never keeps me awake.

  7. I just watched The Illusionist for the first time. I knew that the movies came out in quick succession, not unlike Antz and A Bugs Life, but unlike the aforementioned pair, where both fell upon roughly equal footing, I cannot help but think The Illusionist lacked in depth and emotion, and, not least of all, dramatic flair.

    The Illusionist is not without its redeeming qualities. Tremendous performance from the always delightful Paul Giamatti, but, in the end, the focus on a secondary character is unbecoming in comparison to The Prestige, which closely holds its main characters, if, as you say, “at arms length,” then at least within grasp.

    I never felt for the Emperor-to-be, and I was clearly not meant to. A disillusioned wife-beating monster, the antagonist had little, if any, redeeming qualities. Mr. Norton, did his best, but never seemed to rise above the material and give it life.

    Moreover, if we look at the corresponding female leads, who would want to be Jessica Biel in the stead of Scarlett Johansson? One exudes confidence and schemes with the best of them, and the other is Jessica Biel.

    But truly, the worst of it, is I was never surprised by The Illusionist. It seems, at core, an issue of the suspension of disbelief. I was never in worry of the end, and apparently had no reason to do so. Perhaps a tertiary need in other genres, the magician film genre seems to beg us to question it. Suspension of disbelief is needed on the most base of levels, but no further. We are begged to question how the puzzle is solved. The Prestige, in the end, literally and metaphorically, throws us for a loop and round again. The Illusionist acquiesces this responsibility in a cloud of smoke.


    • Hi, David,
      Sorry not to reply sooner. I appreciate every comment. As I’ve told others, it helps me remember I’m not just talking to myself out here. But I also wanted a space of time to think about and comment on your different points. Well written and thought out, by the way.

      *** Your comment — I cannot help but think The Illusionist lacked in depth and emotion, and, not least of all, dramatic flair. ***

      Wow. Did you watch the same movie I did? I was emotional and mesmerized. The dramatic flair kept up a one-two punch to the solar plexis. What a dichotomy of viewing between you and me. It may be the Mars/Venus mindset. I tend to think more men liked The Prestige over The Illusionist.

      You were so right about the “tremendous performance from the always delightful Paul Giamatti”. I loved him in “Ironclad” as king John Loved the movie, too. But I seem to be alone in that opinion. Don’t care. Loved it anyway.

      The quality of the homicidal maniac in prince clothing was in the actor who brought him so vividly, and ominously to life — Rufus Sewell. He is such a versatile actor. He frightened me, and when he shouted I about jumped out of my skin. I’d hate to have that man shouting at me.

      Your comment — Mr. Norton, did his best, but never seemed to rise above the material and give it life.–

      Again, we’re coming from two different worlds here. His understated, but compelling look, voice, stance, projection, glued me to the screen. I wanted to believe that real magic flowed unobstructed from those outstretched fingertips.

      Your comment — who would want to be Jessica Biel in the stead of Scarlett Johansson? One exudes confidence and schemes with the best of them, and the other is Jessica Biel.-

      Okay. LOVE Scarlett Johansson. Don’t know that much about Jessica Biel. All I can say here is that Biel fit the feminine and upper or ruling class profile of the leading love interest. She fit the softly compliant image of women of that day, yet she was strong where it counted and didn’t hesitate to rebel. I cannot see the beautiful, but strong Johansson fitting that bill at all. And, as you said, she probably would not have wanted it. But her dark role in The Prestige depressed me. It’s not that she can’t play deeper, more diverse roles than that of a non-special powered superhero, but The Prestige took me down dark corridors that left a bad taste. And I never could see the purpose of twisting all these characters into such miserable, though brilliant, people.

      Your comment — The Prestige, in the end, literally and metaphorically, throws us for a loop and round again. The Illusionist acquiesces this responsibility in a cloud of smoke.-

      To wrap this up — here we are at odds again. I hated the confusing loops. Loved the smoke. (And mirrors?)

      Thanks again for a chance to think this stuff out and through.

  8. Just found this review from well over a year ago now but have to give my opinion..

    “He also insists that the movie allows the viewer to fill in the blanks. Sheesh. If I wanted to write the script I’d stay home and save the cost of a ticket.”

    Really? You’ve never watched a movie that was intended to make you think, wonder, and try to figure something out on your own? Whatever you do, don’t watch American Psycho, Shutter Island, Fight Club, Oldboy, Blade Runner, and many many many others. Your mind will be blown by having to actually think for yourself without a writer explaining everything to you. Especially peculiar is that you would complain about this in a movie about magic and deception. I enjoyed both movies immensely, but think your take on The Prestige is a sleight in itself. Complaining about a writer and director forcing you to think is like complaining about having to read subtitles in a movie. As Alfred Borden says, “Are you watching closely?” Clearly you weren’t when you watched The Prestige.

    • Clearly you weren’t listening. I not only do movie reviews but poetry explication, where the blanks are filled deeply with thought. The blanks in The Prestige were more like muddy trenches — the more you try to get a handle on them the more they slip/slide around because of all the depressingly erratic jumping from scene to scene.

      If you like that sort of thing, go for it. I don’t. And the next time you want an intelligent difference of opinion, try using your deep thoughts for some concrete counter points rather than calling my IQ into question.
      Linda Smith

  9. The Prestige is not only better than The Illusionist, in my opinion, The Prestige is better than most films ever produced…it is my favorite work from Nolan, and that’s saying something considering his pedigree. It is brilliant, from beginning to end. And unlike The Illusionist, The Prestige actually lets you peek behind the curtain to see how the “magic” is really done…there really is no comparison. The Prestige is one of those rare movies that immediately makes you say after a first viewing, “I have to see that again. And I have to see that again immediately.” While I enjoyed The Illusionist, it gave me no such motivations.

    • Thank you for that very thoughtful commentary. I agree with everything except I did not much enjoy The Illusionist. I, too, have watched it several times. Edward Norton is totally mesmerizing, and it’s the first time Rufus Sewell came across my radar. But it was definitely not the last.

  10. I would start by saying that I understand that this review is our ‘own personal experience’ and is in no way concrete evidence about the films, just as this comment is my own ‘personal experience’. That being said, I personally feel in terms of being a ‘magic film’, ‘prestige’ outshines ‘Illusionist’ in each and every department by quite a long distance.

    I have watched both of the movies many times over the years and I must say I have been mesmerized by ‘Prestige’. Its story telling, its acting. its mystery was just awesome. It shows us a few ‘how-to-do’ magic tricks and just when we think we can unravel all the mysteries behind all their magic, it throws us a curve ball which leaves us dumbfounded(in a positive sense). It is a good magic movie, perhaps the best of its kind(apart from Harry Potter movies).

    On the other hand ‘Illusionist’ never really reaches the height of ;Prestige’. In its heart, it is more of a love story magic merely acts as a catalyst there IMO. The acting and story here is brilliant too, just no where as good as ‘Prestige’. The most off putting thing I found about ‘illusionist’ was that it made all its magic tricks seem like bland CGI generated with no intention of even trying to make them plausible in any way(including the ‘orange tree trick’ handed to Giamatti by Norton at end of film which we viewers dont get a look at). ‘Prestige’ showed many impossible tricks too(the final cloning machine being a big one) but at least shows a few ones which are explainable which in turn makes those impossible tricks seem possible, unlike ‘Illusionist’ where every trick seems impossible.

    In the end, both are good films. If I need to watch a love movie, I would surely prefer ‘Illusionist’. However, if I feel to be in a mood for ‘Magical/suspense/mystery’ film, I would always pick ‘prestige’. ‘illusionist’ is good, its just not in same league as ‘Prestige’

    • Simon, thank you for that very well-written response. And I now agree. My husband had never seen The Prestige so we watched it a few days ago. What was almost incomprehensible to me at the movie theater without captioning and no reverse and review, was now a thoroughly engrossing story with some bang up surprises. So much I had missed watching it at the theater!!! There have been a few movies that just get better with time because you see something more each time. I intend to write a new review, but you know what the road to hell is paved with so don’t hold your breath, Simon. Thanks again. Enjoyed.

      • Hi Linda,
        I am happy to know you are of same/similar opinion about these movies with me. I was a little astonished to read your review and find out that you held ‘Illusionist’ in such high esteem compared to ‘prestige’. I am glad you re-viewed it thoroughly.
        The one thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post was the twist endings. Both ‘Illusionist’ and ‘Prestige’ have a twist ending each. Now, IMO, the best Hollywood twist ending movies for me are ‘Usual suspects’ and ‘Sixth sense’. The reason I find them to be the best is that when we rewatch the movie again, after knowing the twist, we curse ourselves for not seeing the misleading events in the film the first time.

        Same thing happens with ‘Prestige’ where when viewing second time, we can clearly see how Bale was leading a double life(his dialogues, expressions etc) and how Bowie had made a cloning machine for Jackman (multiple cats, hats etc). So we curse ourselves and praise the Director for hiding these things from us in plain view.

        In ‘Illusionist’ however, though the plot is predictable(almost all of us knew Biel wasn’t dead), the misleading events are missing. No where in movie is any explanation of how Biel’s shadow came on Norton’s stage or which events lead to the twist ending. On a re-watch, we dont get any new revelation like ‘Prestige’, ‘Usual suspects’, ‘Sixth sense’ etc. This further makes ‘Prestige’ a superior film to ‘Illusionist’, with greater re-watch value.

  11. Sorry, somehow I missed this. I still like Illusionist best, simply because of the mesmerizing acting by Edward Norton, but also by Paul Giamatti. They touched me in ways that Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale did not, though I love these two in nearly anything, especially Christian Bale.

    I too loved Sixth Sense. One of the most hidden twists ever made. Hidden in plain sight as you said. That ending was such a SHOCK.

    Also have you seen Christian Bale in the movie, “Flowers of War” about the brutal Japanese invasion of Nanking. I think it’s his finest performance.

  12. I disagree with your assessment of The Prestige. I also preferred The Illusionist, but I wouldn’t say that Prestige was “just about the technical”. It was a story of rivalry, jealousy, pride, greed, obsession, ego, and all of those more base traits that rob a person of those things which are most important in life.

    • Hi Steve, thanks for pitching in. I love dialogue. I have since rewatched The Prestige with my husband. He had never seen it and knew more about the background of Nicolai Tessla than I did. Not knowing who he was threw off some. But the quick changes of scene made me miss some things too. The movie was somewhat like a puzzle where if a piece or two is missing it throws off the overall picture. My mind is usually plodding and analytical. I couldn’t keep up with all the dark switches and turns at that pace. And you are very right that it is a “story of rivalry, jealousy, pride, greed, ego and …base traits. These were brilliant men who should, and could, have had it all but gor those baser traits. Thanks for the opportunity to talk this out a little.

  13. Totally off topic, but I received an email notice that you had commented here and just want to say I’m glad to see you. I hope you and Mike are doing well. We’re shuffling along, thanks to age and health problems, but we’re still sucking air and above ground so I guess that’s good. I hope your health issues have been resolved.

    • I’ve looked for you on Facebook. Are you not on anymore? We think of you and talk about you (in a good way of course). Not resolved but better when we travel westward. Don’t know if we’ve spoken since we traveled out west for two months. Went to Mexico. Then home since Nov. Went eastward about a month visiting relatives and friends in Greenville and Charleston, S. C. Then down through Florida hugging the western banks of the Gulf. Across Georgia and home. Had a lot of fun and adventures, but gosh, at our age, fun is a LOT of stinkin’ work. Lol

    • Jo Ann. For some reason we can never get through to you on Facebook so I’ll try this. Loved the card and seeing your still exquisite handwriting. I should try snail mail again but my fingers are not what they used to be. I can’t bend my fingers too far or the joint locks up. I hope you and Frank are doing better. Mike and I are back home. He’s getting ready to re-roof the house.

  14. I know I’m clearly late to the party here; commenting in 2017 as I am. Alas, I just couldn’t hold my tongue, (or fingers, I suppose, if we are beholden to the running theme of pedantic semantics, as the comparative analysis above conveys). Apologies to the author now since I will openly admit I could not take the review(s) to heart after the point where the author stated that they–in regarding “The Prestige”–wouldn’t have been any less confused if they’d missed 5 odd minutes dashing to the concession. Stating such a thing if reviewing a single movie would be quite forgivable and understandable from the reader’s perspective. There are certainly more than a handful of films that have left me dumbfounded and feeling as if I’d wasted good time and money.
    However, when making outright comparisons of two similarly themed films with distinctly different styles of coloring the audiences’ emotions, the author should obviously have a preference, yet should never be simply “confused” by neither one nor both of the subjects being comparatively critiqued. A gap of such that leaves the author in a state of confusion should either, be diligently pursued to a point in which the critic at least understands wholly that which they are comparing, or the critical writer should reevaluate their mission to move forward. Especially when the two films in question really are about completely different themes when one dies even a few centimeters below the facade in which said themes are being presented. They both have magic, are period pieces, and promote elements of physics and science; true. Yet these films mentioned have absolutely nothing else in common. Certainly nothing that beckons them to be compared and contrasted. I hope my overly written personal sentiment didn’t send you out for popcorn.

    • Not at all. I just need to break down the sentences. You’re a teacher aren’t you? And I’ve got that feeling I didn’t pass. (Chuckle). But I did get the impression you were saying you can’t compare applrs and oranges, though they’re both fruit. (I actually stole that from Pat Sajak). But going on a little further, watching The Prestige on DVD recently with my husband gave me a broader view of the film and caught some of the things I’d missed. They went by me too fast. My husband is a natural speed reader. I’m a contemplative reader and pick sentences apart. I make an excellent editor. But I’m just as slow and contemplative with movies and sometimes works to my disadvantage. It also helped that Mike knew more about the scientist Tesla and the background there. So we could pause and he could explain. I actually need to write an aha review for The Prestige. But I still love The Illusionist better. Though one is an apple and the other is an orange. Thank you BK Campbell, for your insight and for taking the time to comment.

  15. I only scanned this, but I saw them both when they came out and also several times each after that. I enjoyed them both… but the addition of two other supporting actors like Michael Cane and guest appearance of David Bowie as Nicola Tesla was great, and to see them bring Tesla into the plot was amazing as he was at least 100 years ahead of his time and could very well have teleported items. I found the plot wonderful

    I give the nod to the Prestige.

    • I watched the Prestige on DVD with my husband, a former electrician who loves science. (He’s smarter than me). The jumpy scene changes watching it at the movies kept me from keeping up with the plot, and not knowing the historic backgrounds left me confused. Mike had never seen the movie. So on dvd we could slow it down or stop and we could discuss each scene change. He knew the history of the lead characters intimately and was able to share their stories as it went along. Needless to say it was an eye-opener for me. I’ve been meaning to do another review in light of this new insight, but due to health issues I haven’t written in a while. I still like Illusionist better, but I suspect Mike agrees with you. He’s reads science fiction, too. His are a little too hard core SF for my taste but we love watching the movie versions together. Thank you for your comment.

  16. The Prestige wasn’t confusing? I don’t know what about it was so hard to understand.

    Been an Ed Norton fan since Fight Club. The Illusionist was ok but far too simple and easy to predict. It never threw me for a loop. You say it probes the secrets if life and death, date and chance, but it does neither.

    Nobody actually died and came back to life, there was no chance involved, Eisenheim completely set everything up, and I feel you are ascribing far too many merits to a movie that did not have them.

    The Prestige was the infinitely better film, with much more nuanced characters and a far better twist, and it’s “magic tricks” weren’t ridiculous impossibilities like what we saw in The Illusionist.

  17. Linda, you’re a dinosaur. who prefers pomp and circumstance than depth to your art. Your responses are defensive, your opinion is based on sentimentality and symbolism rather than art and entertainment. It’s clear that you wait to speak instead of listen and your review is simply stating what happened in the movies (limitedly), thinking that it’s an argumentative statement. The Illusionist is a film that is created to make people feel good about themselves, The Prestige is a film that is designed to challenge what a person knows is inside of them. It’s not bad to like a film that makes you feel good, but to go after another cause it doesn’t says a lot about what makes you tick. The Prestige is an excellent film that makes us wonder about science fiction and the humanity in us, The Illusionist is a tourism film masked with cliches and been there done that plot.

    • Hello, Neal, from the Land Before Time. Dino speaking. Yes, I agree. The Prestige is a much better movie than I gave it credit for. However, for the scientifically uninitiated, I recommend boning up on Tesla and a swift science course. It helps also to be married to a man steeped in science and science fiction from an early age and a super fan of Tesla. And yes we share intellectual pursuits, but science has never been my forte. He helps me in science and I help him in classic literature. I made the mistake of going to see The Prestige with a friend instead of him. So when it came out on DVD we watched it together, paused at parts I did not understand, and I was wonderfully surprised at the end.

      I do, however, defend my sentimentality and symbolism, and I try not to give away the whole movie in my reviews.

      I thoroughly enjoyed The Prestige the second time around when there was time and breath to take in the galloping scene switches. I do enjoy a more English novel approach.

      But darned if I don’t still like The Illusionist better. Thank you for your comment, sir.


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