Being nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction, Christopher Nolan co-wrote this film with his brother and co-produced it with his wife, making this film rather personal and sentimental than all his other great films he has made.
This film is about two magicians in the late 19th century in rivalry to create the best illusion on stage. It’s a brutal fight and they risk their lives to succeed. They are so obsessed with their job and magic tricks, that you end up questioning their humanity because they go so far to keep their secrets and maintain their rights over the illusions they perform. Would you really give up your family just to be number one, and would you really cut off a finger just to keep your secret? Their obsession eventually leads to tragic results for both Borden and Angier.
The interesting thing about this movie is that as a viewer, if it’s your first time watching it, you literally have NO idea what’s really going on, none of it makes sense and time is flashed forwards and backwards – which is different to most films because the audience is often one step ahead of the actual characters in the movie to figure the secret/mystery etc but this movie does the opposite and the characters seem to know more than we do, creating that active response to the film. The amount of narration and voiceovers indicates the depth of the characters’ mind and the secrets they carry… so if you lose focus on what is said, you feel as if you miss out on all the clues to the mystery of the plot, which makes this a great film – keeps you intrigued the WHOLE way through! I literally sat there in COMPLETE concentration, trying hard to figure out what’s going on.
Borden and Angier used to be mates, who shared a common interest – magical illusions. However, Borden (Christian Bale) came up with a trick “the transported man” that Angier could not figure out – this drove him to his madness. Not only did he lose his wife due to Borden’s so-called ‘mistake’ of tying the wrong knot around his wife’s wrists during a show (causing her inability to escape while she was in the water, thus drowns on stage infront of everyone and in front of Angier’s eyes) but he also performed an unbeatable and unexplainable trick (walking in one door and out another door that’s across the stage). Only near the end we find out the true mystery behind this magical illusion and does not require science nor technology to explain it.
The casting for this is also perfect – very familiar to The Dark Knight trilogy. Jackman and Bale, both dominating figures on screen that the anticipation leading to the very moment when they confront each other was epic. Michael Cain also did a terrific job as the supporting actor, his accent and character is impossible to hate, and is quite similar to the butler role he plays in Batman. And last but not least, Scarlett Johanson, how could we forget you? Her beauty is the only source of vibrant colour and light in the entire movie. Great performance of tricks as well.
I also want to take a note on the unique and deliberate techniques of cinematography in this film. I love the way the visual image is constructed to influence the mood, and the lighting is never natural instead staged, and colours are often dark and shady.
Beautiful shot with the endless ‘magical’ lightbulbs everywhere
This is one of those films which the protagonist and the antagonist is not defined, but rather blurred. It was impossible to decide which magician is better and who is more of a victim… like, they’re both good and evil and MAD, but it seems to be intentional, and the complex nature of the characters’ mentality are demonstrated through this undefined nature.