‘The Prestige’ Explains Christopher Nolan’s Stubbornness

This article contains spoilers for The Prestige ... Duh.

Christopher Nolan's Tenet is barrelling its way into U.S. movie theaters this week, even though they're probably not a place anybody should be going right now. With its release landing squarely in the middle of a global pandemic, Nolan remained dead-set against anything short of a full-blown, old-school theatrical release. Even drive-ins aren't allowed to play Tenet unless it's also playing at a nearby indoor cinema. 

All this has prompted a lot of people to wonder: "What's Chris Nolan's deal?" Seth Rogen quipped that he seemingly wants to "kill his greatest fans." But Nolan's abject stubbornness makes a lot more sense when you watch his 2006 movie The Prestige.

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Several of Nolan's movies play like stealth autobiographies; Inception is about the process of filmmaking, and Memento is literally about a dude who defines his existence using antiquated film technology. The Prestige, though, feels like Nolan's curmudgeonly artistic mission statement. The story concerns two rival old-timey magicians; Angier and Borden, played by Wolverine and Batman, respectively. 

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Both guys are working on versions of the same trick: "The Transported Man." In their escalating game of showbiz one-upmanship, Angier turns to famed inventor Nikola Tesla who builds him a friggin' duplication machine. This means that every time he performs the trick, Angier duplicates himself and kills the original. A foolproof plan, except it leaves him with a warehouse full of handsome corpses to deal with.

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On the other hand, Borden accomplishes the same trick without having to murder himself or piss in the face of the laws of physics. It turns out Borden has a twin, who he kept secret from even his wife. Which is, frankly, super-creepy, Borden. 

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Borden is, at least to some extent, victorious, whereas Angier (who never figured out his secret) dies. The artist who favored the more painstaking, practical approach is ultimately our hero. The one who used newfangled technologies to achieve the same artistic effect was not only a villain, he degraded his own soul in the process. This is Nolan's POV in a nutshell. He famously abhors digital technology and is a passionate advocate of celluloid. Like Borden, he accomplishes his illusions the old-fashioned way -- not with CGI or computer trickery, but with practical effects. Even just recently, he bragged that Tenet has less visual effects shots "than most romantic comedies" and made headlines after revealing that he blew-up a real 747 for one scene.

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So really, it's no surprise that Nolan doesn't want to distribute Tenet digitally because to him, that would probably feel like being zapped by a zany electro-gun and immediately drowning. But the logic of this mindset quickly falls apart in a world where the reverse is true; new technology could allow more people to enjoy art safely while clinging to the old-fashioned method could potentially lead to more corpses.

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Top Image: Touchstone Pictures

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