Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Prestige and The Illusionist

When I was on my long weekend in Virginia last month I went to see The Prestige one day and The Illusionist the next; I'd missed The Illusionist when it played here, so I was glad my friend didn't mind seeing it again.

In The Prestige (based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Priest, which I have my name down for at the library where I work), two young magicians in turn-of-the-20th-century London start out as colleagues and friendly rivals, but when one of them ties what may or may not have been a faulty knot as part of a water escape trick in which the other's wife dies onstage, their relationship turns to escalating acts of sabotage and deepening obsession.

In The Illusionist (based, very loosely, on the story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" by Steven Millhauser, which I've read) the young son of a cabinetmaker falls for the daughter of a noble family, and years after they are forcibly separated, he meets her again when she comes onstage to volunteer for one of his illusions.  But she is now a duchess, and about to be engaged to the Emperor's son; and the Crown Prince has a reputation for violence that doesn't bode well for any woman in his orbit.

I'm glad I saw them in the order that I did, because I liked The Illusionist a lot more and if I'd seen it first I might have been disappointed in The Prestige.  Unfairly so, since they're not the same kind of story at all: The Illusionist is a fairy tale, and doesn't pretend to be anything else, while The Prestige is a much grittier story of obsession and revenge that abruptly takes a left turn into steampunk.  Most critics are saying that The Prestige is clearly the superior movie, and I'm not saying it isn't; just that the comparisons between the two are unfair to both films.

Besides, The Illusionist has characters I could sympathize with, and in The Prestige everyone turns out to be a right bastard.  Not what I personally am looking for in my escapism, thanks.

Originally posted at MySpace 11/4/06

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