Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Our rating: 3 out of 5
Magicians never reveal the secret of their illusions. Most of the time, they are even unwilling to sell them for profit. The Presage is a film about a notorious rivalry between two men determined to destroy one another. It's a story about the darkest inclinations of the human heart, painting a grotesque and haunting image of the lengths men will go to seek vengeance, but is ultimately an exploration of the human heart.
Two men are chosen from the audience. Climbing onto the stage, they tie up the magician's beautiful assistant and watch in awe as she is lowered into a tank of water. The curtain drops, and moments later she is standing free, drenched but unharmed. These two men are Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). Hoping to break into the industry, they are students of the magical arts. Borden is the more ambitious of the two, determined to invent the greatest tricks the world has ever seen. His enthusiasm for the dramatic causes him to make a tragic mistake that results in the death of Angier's wife. Their tempestuous friendship comes to a brutal end, and a powerful rivalry begins. Borden has talent but lacks the showmanship to sell it. Angier has vast showmanship skills, but lacks the talent to come up with new tricks.
When Borden enthralls local audiences with a trick that requires him to vanish and reappear at a distance in a matter of seconds, Angier is determined to learn how it is done. Together with his beautiful assistant (Scarlett Johansson) and the help of his manager (Michael Caine) he attempts to recreate the trick, but with more pizzazz. What unfolds throughout the two and a half hours is an exploration of the man's darkest nature, and the corruption of the soul. The world of illusion is cast in a treacherous light as it reveals to us that not all is what it seems, and most people don't want to know the truth behind the magic. It goes deeper into fantastical aspects of science (allowing for a rare movie appearance by the fabulous David Bowe) and concludes on a dramatic and macabre note. To their credit, filmmakers took an extremely dark script and refused to wallow too much in the violence that accompanies it, but there are still scenes of intense thematic elements.
Men fall through trap doors and break limbs, blood spurts from a man's hand after his fingers have been shot off. Two people are shown drowning, another commits suicide by hanging. A malicious magician's trick involves a collapsing cage that kills the bird inside (this bothered me a lot, particularly as that same trick is used at the beginning and end of the film as a visual metaphor). Not knowing what will happen, a man uses a cat to test an electrical machine (the animal is unharmed). There's a mild spattering of language (most of it "bloody") and minimal sexual content. Angier is shown playfully kissing his wife in bed. It's alluded to that Olivia sleeps with Angier, and conducts an affair with the very-married Borden. Most of her costumes are rather revealing. I find it difficult to review this film because while there is nothing expressly wrong with it, I left the theatre feeling very conflicted. It's true that the film represents the darker nature of mankind, and paints a realistic image of what happens when we allow a desire for vengeance to destroy our lives. The character of Tesla (Bowe) even reminded me somewhat of God, reluctantly allowing free will to govern the actions of the magicians, but advising them against their self-destructive actions. But it also lacks an inspired ending, and might leave audiences with a feeling of intense sorrow over the ruined lives of its leading men, neither of which are heroic. From intentionally shooting off fingers to breaking legs, catching innocent audience members' fingers in bird traps, and burying one another's assistants alive, there is a level of malevolence to their relationship I have rarely seen in film.