Perception

Type the word “Perception” Into google and you are given two definitions. The first definition says “The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.” That’s great. It means every living thing has perception. However, It’s the second definition, that makes things more interesting: “The way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.” With this second definition, is how the living thing differentiates itself. The living thing maybe able to perceive things in a far more elaborate way to the other living things. Or it may choose to be perceived in a much more favourable way.

I watched “The Prestige” yesterday. The brilliant Christopher Nolan film about a rivalry between two magicians that tragically gets more and more intense. Like a prank war but set in late 19th century London but with far worse consequences and philosophical implications. The film would have been far greater for me had I not known that Christopher Nolan was the director, as throughout I was looking for classic Nolan clues for a big twist. It’s a movie, therefore the plot twist, if there is one, has already happened, and if it has already happened, then there will be clues.

There was another reason, knowing The Prestige was an enigmatic Nolan film, created a problem:

The Inception Theory.

The Inception Theory is an alternate perspective to “Inception” another Nolan film. The theory was not put forward by me, you’ll find it here. I don’t know if this is the original article or not. That is not important. The key is how we perceive this theory. Lets get to it.

The theory says that Inception, the film about being able to go into people’s dreams and take/plant ideas, is actually an analogy of film-making.

Leonardo DiCaprio is the actor who plays Cobb. Cobb could actually been seen as the Director in film-making terms, as he is the one who orchestrates and directs everyone else.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the actor who plays Arthur. Arthur does the legwork to set everything up for the director, making him the producer. Saito Is the businessman that provides the money, making him the Exec-Producer. In the end Fischer, who is the recipient of the dream, is the audience. Of course roles of the different characters can be blurred. Such is life.

There is one scene where Cobb talks about dreams, but when you realise It’s actually Nolan passionately describing film-making, the imagery becomes much more vivid; “It’s the chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed, things that couldn’t exist in the real world…”

I could go on, but I’ll get to the conclusion. I’d rather you read the article about Inception as a lot of effort was put into that I wouldn’t want to take away from it.

When you typed “Inception” into google, the definition stated: “The establishment or starting point of an institution or activity.” The concept of Inception is to create an entirely new world (Dream) to plant an idea in the head of the Fischer (audience) which is a form of Inception. Movies create entirely new worlds to and plants ideas into the audience. Inception is what is happening in the movie, it is also what a movie does.

The Prestige

So now I had the parallels from The Inception Theory to consider when watching The Prestige as well as looking out for the meticulously placed clues for the plot twist.

There’s more.

The Inception ending is infamous. The ending of Inception left some audience members asking “Was he dreaming? Was it real?”. Of course those questions were left unanswered. They weren’t important anyway. The ambiguous ending created differences in the perception of the entire film and journey. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the point. Such is Life.

Armed and equipped with all of this information, The Prestige became a quest for three things:

  • The clues: Inception had clues such as the spinning top totem and giving hints such as Leonardo explaining: In dreams you don’t remember how it starts.
  • The plot twist: The mysterious dream technology and not knowing what was real by the end, sums up the twist in Inception
  • The parallels: The analogy of the movie to film-making and the parallels of the characters to the actual people involved in making a movie.

The prestige starts with several top hats lying on the ground of a wooded area. A slow panning shot with the Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) saying “Are you watching closely.” Of course, that was the queue to start paying attention and to realise those hats on the floor were the first clue. I was pretty pleased with myself already, so much so that I missed the next few clues. Then again, I didn’t know they were clues until the very end (It’s harder to make a puzzle without the full picture).

There are many other clues. Every trick where the bird or one of the characters are “magically” transported. Every time Alfred Borden said he loved his wife and she didn’t know whether on this particular day he would mean it. The biggest clue of all for me remained to be top hats. When Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) seemingly failed at transporting the top hats, I was temporarily transported to the beginning of the film, by memory. This is the reason why the top hats are on the floor of the wooded area. They are being cloned.

Now I had enough clues to figure out the main plot twist of the movie and I still had half a movie left. However my interest was still peaked because I still had in store the ambiguous ending.

So, cut to the ending and the plot twist. Angier (Hugh Jackman) he rival Magician has actually been cloning himself with Tesla’s invention so that in his magic show, he can be the transported man. However just like the trick with the birds, one version of him dies every time.

Whilst this was the case for Angier, for Borden, he actually had a twin brother and was able to work with him to create the show.

The plot twist: The mysterious cloning technology and not knowing whether Angier was still him or now a version of himself.

None of this is important. We should be paying attention to the brilliance that elevates Christopher Nolan to another level: The parallels. The same parallels to film-making we saw in Inception.

First let’s look at the characters. The Magicians (Angier and Borden) have more than one role in my eyes. In the first instance they are the director, as they have to bring everything together to create the show. In the next instance they are actors because they are actually in the show. Michael Caine’s Character is the producer, he does the legwork to set everything up for the director. The audience of the show are us… the audience.

Seeing as I’ve given Angier and Borden two parallel roles, I’ll give them two parallel meanings for those roles. In the film Angier steals the idea for the magic show from Borden, just as a director may steal the idea for a movie from another director. For the Prestige, the twin brothers working together to create the show could be a parallel for two ideas working well together to create a great film. The ideas of magic tricks and science coming together to create The Prestige perhaps? On the other hand during Angier’s show he didn’t work with his clone at all, in fact he killed him. This could be when one idea of the film is superior than the other.. like science being superior to magic tricks.

of course there are other ways to interpret this. The twin brothers could be two directors working together on the same film. In Angier’s version, one of the directors may want the glory and outshine the other. It could be the relationship between the director and the screenwriter where in one case they work well together to pull off a the vision, like the Nolan Brothers. or on the other hand, one kills the others vision to with too much of their own input (probably fuelled by ego, just like Angier).

When you think of the two magicians in the actor roles on the stage, the parallels actually become far less abstract. Borden the magician with the twin brother represents a times when an actor would literally need a double to accomplish something or be in a place he cannot be. A loose example being a stunt double. Angier using science to clone himself represents the using the science of great editing to make it appear as if he is doing something he actually isn’t. A great film example of this is “Jumper”.

Inception was an inception for the real life audience, The Prestige was the prestige for the real life audience. Just like a magic show we are revealed to acts entirely impossible yet we play along because we want to be fooled, we want to be entertained, we want to be immersed, we want to believe.

Now seeing as we’re discussing Christopher nolan films let’s talk about another one and apply our new perceptions.

Interstellar

“In the film, a crew of astronauts travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity” is the brief description afforded by Wikipedia. Of course now we know, there is far more to Interstellar than this merely aesthetic synopsis.

Out of the three films, Interstellar is special. Not only is there more significant meaning behind the entire film, but the parallels have parallels and can be perceived as much more applicable to the audience.

The Prestige began showing the prestige of the entire movie; the top hats that were actually clones of the original. Interstellar begins in exactly the same way; the bookshelf that is essentially the main link between one dimension and another. The bookshelf is itself, interstellar.

We regarded that The Prestige was a prestige on the audience. We Understood Inception is an inception on audience. Now we can interpret Interstellar is taking the audience interstellar. Because these are all analogies of film-making, this doesn’t just apply to Nolan Films, this applies to all films. Many forms of entertainment are a big reveal of new ideas taking the audience to another dimension.

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, the main character of Interstellar. When we apply the Inception theory, we see his parallel role as director. Before the big mission, Cooper says, “when I get up there time is going to run different for me.” He is right. When he passes through the wormhole he assumes his role as the director. One of the crew even mentions as they pass through the wormhole “all you can do is record and observe”.

After a this record and observe period, I assume a director watches back the footage of their film? After passing through the wormhole Cooper’s family are able to communicate to him but he is not able to communicate back. After being temporarily marooned on a planet where one hour is seven years, (because of proximity to a black hole) Cooper returns to the main ship to find several messages down the years from his family. Cue the next parallel showing Cooper watching video messages of his family aging just as a director watching back footage would. Of course The characters in any film age incredibly fast compared to the person watching be it days, months, years or even lifetimes.

The key set piece of the entire film comes towards the end. Cooper finds himself in the predicament of having to eject himself into a black hole to save someone else. As he falls through to the centre of the black hole, he grabs onto a edge. It appears he is then able to work his way around different points in time of his daughter’s (Murph) bedroom. From here Cooper can affect Murph at different points in time with gravity and using the bookshelf shown at the very beginning of the film.

He is the director looking at different scenes of his film and directing (editing) the characters to do the things that he wants them to do in order to have the desired outcome.

We as the audience witnessed the changes he made already. The edits were made as we were watching the film. This is because what will happen has already happened.

Time is Relative

There are two main ways a film can do time travel. One way can have alternate timelines like in films such as Looper and Deja Vu. In these films Characters who travel back into the past are essentially able to change the outcome of the future they knew. These films are interesting. They are also cop outs. This supports the idea that there could be infinite alternate realities which can be changed every time someone wants to change it. If the person’s responsibility is to save the world, they won’t be able to. They only save the world in the particular reality they are in (their previous future stays the same and the world stays unsaved).

The other way to do time travel is to say there is only one reality. Interstellar, Harry Potter (Prisoner of Azkaban), and Predestination all do this. Characters who travel into the past may think they are changing something but actually they are just fulfilling reality. They are fulfilling a timeline which has already been set. The choices and actions they take have already been made by their future, past-travelling selves. This is how you do it. There is only one reality.

Of course neither option is available to us. Nor will it be.

Wormholes for Time Travel

Kip Thorne, The physicist behind the science of Interstellar, put forward a thought experiment. We know the closer you get to the speed of light, the slower time goes. We also know that if you somehow keep open a wormhole (using exotic matter) you would be able to travel between to two points in space. On Space.com, Kip’s thought experiment is mapped out as follows:

In his 1994 book “Black Holes and Time Warps” (W.W. Norton & Co. 1994), Thorne proposes a thought experiment: Say he obtains a small wormhole, which connects two points in space as if they were not separated by any distance at all. [What’s New in Black Holes? A conversation with Kip Thorne]

Thorne takes his wormhole and puts one end in his living room, and the other aboard a spaceship parked in his front yard. Thorne’s wife, Carolee, hops aboard the spaceship to prepare for a trip. The two don’t have to say goodbye, though, because no matter how far away Coralee travels, they can see each other through the wormhole. They can even hold hands, as if through an open doorway.

Carolee starts up the spaceship, heads into space and travels for six hours at the speed of light. She then turns around and comes back home traveling at the same speed — a round trip of 12 hours. Thorne watches through the wormhole and sees this trip occur. He sees Coralee return from her trip, land on the front lawn, get out of the spaceship and head into the house.

But when Thorne looks out the window in his own world, his front lawn is empty. Coralee has not returned. Because she traveled at the speed of light,time slowed down for her: What was 12 hours for her was 10 years for Thorne back on Earth.

Now, as Thorne and Coralee hold hands through the wormhole, they are each traveling in time. Coralee has landed on Earth 10 years after she left, and there she will meet Thorne, 10 years older. But she can still reach through the wormhole and find Thorne, who is only 12 hours older. Thorne can step through the wormhole and find himself 10 years in the future, or his future self can step back 10 years into the past.

Unfortunately even by this method I don’t believe we would be able to time travel. As Coralee started the engines and took off, her perception of Kip would change, and vica-versa. If Coralee had a watch on it would slow down tremendously therefore Coralee would also slow down tremendously. From Coralee’s point of view, Kip would age 10 years in the space of 12 hours. From Kip’s point of view, Coralee would would age 12 hours in the space of 10 years.

Simple mental maths says that 12 hours is 2 times quicker than a day. Therefore 12 hours is 730 times quicker than an average year. Therefore 12 hours is 7300 times quicker than 10 years. Visually, Coralee would perceive Kip to be moving 7300 quicker than normal and therefore may not actually see him at all. On the other side Kip would witness Coralee moving 7300 times slower than normal.

7300 times slower than normal. Let’s put that into perspective. According to a quick Google search, the average blink of an eye is 300–400 milliseconds (roughly ⅓ of a second). This means if Kip wanted to watch Coralee blink once, he would have to wait 40 minutes from start to finish.

Yes at the end of the trip Coralee would only be 12 hours older and Kip 10 years older but if either stepped through the wormhole at the end of the trip or at any point during the trip they would still be at the same point in time.

Perception is Relative

For me, the most important line to come out of all three of these Nolan films; “Time is a resource just like oxygen and food.”

For those of us who have seen all three films, we all saw, heard, and became aware of the same films through our senses. However, how we regarded, understood and interpreted these films, are very different.

Such is life.