Christopher Nolan made The Prestige (2006) between his first and second Batman features. It was a return for Nolan to the pseudo non-linear narrative storytelling of Memento (2000) but with big bucks. Nolan being Nolan, he can’t help but to broadcast his clever narrative structure the entire time at the expense of complex characterization.
The Prestige, more than any of Nolan’s other films, disregards its characters. The plot twist around the dual Christian Bale characters renders them a plot device while Scarlett Johansson’s character, in a manner consistent in Nolan’s works, is a woman who only exists to prove that the male characters matter and to furnish them with a means of revealing their motivations. With two of his leads relegated to serving as narrative devices, Nolan is left only with Hugh Jackman. The problem is that the Nolan brothers have written the film so that Jackman’s character is so single minded that there is no room for nuance or complexity.
Nolan’s supporting cast of Michael Caine, David Bowie, and Rebecca Hall are all legends in their own right. Nolan uses this to add the illusion of dimension to these secondary characters knowing that audiences will view them as signifiers of what they represent to popular culture at large before zeroing in on how The Prestige uses them.
The cinema of Christopher Nolan is a depressed and hollow cinema; his narrative games hardly achieve all the complexity of just two minutes of a Chris Marker short film. Add to that the fact that the men in his movies are singular in dimension while the women are simply objects around which the stories of these men pivot and the human, emotional factor of Nolan’s films is more bankrupt than Walt Disney’s. There is nothing to The Prestige except a conceited filmmaker looking to get a pat on the back from his band of devoted fans.