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Episode #42 – SUNDAY WIRE: ‘America Hangs By A Cultural Thread’ with Jay Dyer and Dean Ryan
By Jay Dyer
For most viewers, The Prestige was a film about rival stage magicians in the Victorian Era, alternately seeking to top one another in the dank climate of emerging industrial revolution and technological wonder. Lord Caldlow/Angiers (Hugh Jackman) is the secret nobleman who has a flair for the art of illusion, while Robert Borden and his twin (Christian Bale) are the working class stage hands who have devoted their lives to their art. In the midst of this rivalry, the curious figure of Nikola Tesla enters (played by David Bowie) to interject the element of real magic, titled in the film, “wizardry.” Both magicians are on a quest to sabotage the other, while seeking to perfect the greatest trick of all – ‘The Transported Man’.
IMAGE: A Tesla tower in rural Colorado.
Stage rivalry and obsession is what The Prestige is about, but it is also about much more. After several viewings (as is my normal habit), my thesis began to congeal: The Prestige is about Hollywood and film-making itself. And not only that, it is an industry that is an art of deception and illusion. The director and the actors are in effect illusion artists, or con men, if you will. The successful director is able to fool the audience into accepting that what is presented on the screen is real, even if it is evidently fantastical. The magicians’ ingenieure, Mr. Cutter (Michael Caine), explains this principle of film as illusion at the beginning, which is to be applied to the film itself. Cutter states:
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”
Director Christopher Nolan explains in “The Making of The Prestige” this is to be applied to both directing and the film itself as theatrical illusion: “For me, The Prestige is very much about film-making. It’s very much about what I do. It is also intended to suggest to the audience some of those ideas about how the film itself is spooling its narrative out to the audience. You want people to be aware of the effect the film is having as it’s unfolding before their eyes.” The Prestige follows this same tripartite structure, as it draws you into an ordinary story of human rivalry and obsession, the “Turn,” where the audience is looking for the secret of Angier and the Borden’s trick, but not truly looking, because like film, stage magic operates under the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The audience “wants to be fooled.” And in the end, the transported man must come back – reemerge or resurrect, as the final climax of the show.
In order to properly understand Nolan’s film, we must consider the same principle elucidated concerning David Lynch films – twilight language. Researcher Michael Hoffman defines “twilight language” as follows in his Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare: “The path to unlocking this gnosis was centered in “twilight language,” a once nearly universal subliminal communication system used in Egypt, Babylon, the Indian subcontinent and among the Aztecs, consisting of a combination of numbers, archetypal words and symbols, which in our time are sometimes embedded in modern advertising, and in certain modern films and music….
In Oriental Tantra, the mantra (including dharani, kavaca, yamala, etc.) is sonically calculated to induce a particular action. It forms part of the original sanskrit concept of sandhyabhasa (aka ‘twilight language’). In Tantra, ‘Sandhyabhasa… is a language of light and darkness…in this higher type of discourse, words have another, a different meaning: this is not to be openly discussed.” (pg. 207)
Like Kubrick, Lynch and Hitchcock, Nolan utilizes this same pattern, where certain words, images and phrases will stand out as ciphers to the film on the deeper level. This is a tricky process, as it is not always a simple science of picking out which clues and words are key, but it can be done with experience. This is one of the more controversial aspects dealt with at JaysAnalysis, so I intend on providing other examples of the same in other arenas to help convince skeptics. Hoffman continues:
“Ritual is obsession in motion. Obsessive people are walking rituals and they attract “coincidentally,” aids to their obsessions. If this is done consciously and the obsession happens to coordinate with the trend and tendency of the time, a lot more “coincidental” magnification will be forthcoming. Coincidence can be summoned. It is a matter of attention and timing. First you must be aware of – believing in and observing – the mechanism of coincidence when it agrees with your work, then you coordinate what you’re working on with what you were predestined to do. When you start to see the pattern of coincidence and it becomes a language for you, you have either become an initiate or a schizophrenic, take your pick, because you lose the protection of materialism – our own protection against the disordering of the arrangement we’ve given to the world to make it manageable.” (Ibid., 130)
Nolan’s films are replete with uses of Jungian archetypes and synchronicity – another Jungian concept. In my Inception analysis, I wrote:
“The other crucial element is that the story is not a linear story, just like a dream is often non-linear. The film concerns essentially the “architecture of the mind,” as director Christopher Nolan described it. Jung’s theories involve the idea that the individual is a disparate instantiation of the collective unconscious, and thus fragmented from the collective. The collective conscious manifests itself in images and archetypes in our deepest selves – the lowest of the subconscious. It is here that we hide out most intimate failures, sins and fears. We guard this sensitive part of our selves, and have defense mechanisms by which we hide and guard these deeper, more elemental ethereal truths about who we really are. For Jung, being the gnostic he was, the goal is to overcome all purported fragmentation, work through the so-called self-realization/individuation process, and thus escape dualities. The masculine “side” must reconcile with the feminine. One notices here familiar themes found throughout the history of alchemy, and Jung was known for his penchant in such arcane studies.”
The above quotes thus solidify a central concept in my analysis of The Prestige – the film is not just about Hollywood illusion and twilight language, but the usage of that power through the illusion of the stage/screen to produce an effect in the consciousness of the viewer. In my Eyes Wide Shut analysis, I claimed the film was an attempt to initiate the reader, whereas with The Prestige, the film seems to delight in fooling the audience. It is an exaltation of the fact that most of the viewing audience will not understand the connotations, thinking the film was only about rival magicians, while being unable to place the usage of Nikola Tesla. It is also crucial to remember that Nolan’s Batman Trilogy included numerous examples of archetypal symbolism and conspiriana, the most famous of which being the Sandy Hook reference on Bain’s map of the city, prior to the Sandy Hook incident in 2012. Given that level of planned “synchronicity,” we may infer that nothing in Nolan’s films is accidental, especially not Tesla. Nolan is telling you something.
Recall as well that Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins was entirely a conspiracy-themed plot, lending credence to my thesis that all of his films may legitimately be assumed to be “written” twilight language. On Batman Begins, I explained about the League of Shadows, the dark eastern cult that had become Batman’s nemesis:
“It is also relevant to consider that the drugging of the water supply, an old Soviet and Nazi tactic, is, in fact, still practiced today, as much of the United States’ water supply is purposefully drugged in order to chemically attack the masses, reducing Iqs and causing sterilization. See this video. Psychoactive drugs have also been proposed for addition to water supplies, as well as actual antidepressants, rocket fuel and radiation, turning up in samples. Drugs are also being sprayed in geo-engineering and “chemtrail” programs. For the League of Shadows, the purpose is mass insanity directed towards an engineered social collapse. Again, art mirrors reality. The hallucinogen mind control chemical is developed by “Scarecrow” (Cillian Murphy), who is a doctor specializing in mental health and brainwashing. Scarecrow represents the pharmaceutical complex which works in tandem with the military industrial complex to engineer and control society. The Scarecrow character brings to mind the famed MKULTRA program which did experiment with various methods, including drugs, to solve and control the human mind.”
In The Prestige, dualities play a tremendous role. Borden has a double, his twin brother, who shares his life as the family man, as well as Angier having his initial double, Mr. Root, the drunken failed actor. As the rivalry intensifies, Borden and Angier become doubles in a way, each seeking to top the other and obsessing over the other. Both Borden and Angier live double lives, not being who they appear to be. This duality is a common theme in Hitchcock and Nolan is clearly utilizing it. Dialectical dualism is one of the oldest religious principles, operating as a dialectic in both eastern and western religion and occultism. Our temporal life in that perspective is seen as one of constant struggle with duality and opposition, with alchemical fusion or other-worldly transcendence seen as the usual escape. Oriental religions are especially taken up with dualities and dualism and this becomes a symbolic indicator with the old Chinese magician. Cutter tells Borden and Angier they can have ten minutes of audition time if they can solve the old man’s act. After viewing it, Borden tells Angier the secret to the routine was that he always played the character of the old magician. It was all an act, because that is true devotion to the art, and true devotion to the art is the only way to “escape all this” (as he pounds on a rock wall). On one level, Borden was referring to his life of poverty, but on a deeper level, it is a reference to the film’s continual usage of bird cages, water tanks and boxes.
The bird-cage is explained by Nolan as an image of being trapped. The magicians use of the tank and Angier’s use of “Tesla’s box” exemplify this, too, and the meaning is twofold. On the one hand, the characters are trapped in their own mental prisons of obsession over both women and their stagecraft. The obsession leads to the death of one of the Borden’s and his wife, as well as countless clones of Angier from the Tesla machine. As I will explain later, the amazing technology of Tesla is presented inThe Prestige as something wholly other – something no one at that time was able to accept and could only be slowly introduced.
The film presents Tesla as working covertly in Colorado to power a whole town while also conducting secret experiments involving cloning. I have written elsewhere about the truth behind this idea, that Tesla did do many of the seemingly miraculous things attributed to him, but that his work was confiscated by officials of various intelligence agencies, which is even referenced in passing in the film. Tesla did work on secret projects in Colorado, and this is significant in terms of twilight language in regard to another famous novel, Atlas Shrugged…
Continue this article at Jay’s Analysis
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