Directors and writers recycle elements of their own work all the time. Shane Black has an obsession with Christmas, Joss Whedon has mentioned Budapest in both Buffy and The Avengers in throw-away lines, Steven Spielberg has the Spielberg Face, and, as I’ve mentioned before, Christopher Nolan loves incredibly rich protagonists. And while it’s true that many directors may be unaware that they’re recycling elements of their previous works, sometimes something is recycled so much that it has to be hard to think they aren’t just screwing with us a little bit. The case in point for today: director Christopher Nolan and the similarities between The Prestige (2006) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). And let’s also note that this article will contain spoilers for both films.
Let’s start off with our protagonists in The Prestige, dueling illusionists Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Christian Bale). Angier comes from a rich family, is rather showy, and has no great disinterest in the opposite sex unless they manage to get in the way of his personal goals. So, with this, we have a character almost identical to that of Bruce Wayne. With Borden, we have an ingenious, devoted-to-the-case, master of disguise (with his twin brother Fallon) who makes his life a living hell by establishing a secret identity. In other words, Borden is very much like Batman, but also Bruce Wayne as well. But similar protagonists aren’t enough to go off, so let’s go a little bit deeper.
Michael Caine shows up in The Prestige as Cutter, the craftsman and partner to Angier, who also keeps him in line, spits out philosophy, and even finds himself too torn up, battered, and broken to continue following Angier in his mission for justice. Hopefully that sounds familiar, because I was actually describing Alfred from The Dark Knight Rises. And while Alfred’s departure in TDKR was a bit more emotional, his reasoning is primarily the same. It’s obvious that Cutter loves Angier, but he can no longer be a part of the life of an obsessed man (“Obsession is a young man’s game.”) and he chooses to leave Angier’s side. Likewise, Alfred can’t watch Bruce Wayne destroy himself and his name for the sake of being Batman. And a tearful goodbye ensues. But I know this isn’t enough to convince you, so there’s still quite a bit more.
There’s also the added element of that time Angier sought the help of a brilliant scientist to create for him a machine that would turn out to be the centerpiece of the climax. It’s a machine that is ultimately made for the use of good, but obviously falls into being maltreated and becomes a device for evil. You know the scientist I’m talking about.
Lucius Fox Tesla. Both men are happy to provide their services to the protagonists, and both men also come with warnings about the possibilities of their machines. Not to mention both men are under some scrutiny for their secret work within their occupations. Remember how in The Dark Knight an employee almost blackmails Bruce Wayne because of all the work going into a supposedly dysfunctional branch of the company? And then, of course, with The Prestige you have Tesla’s wonderful line:
“The first time I changed the world, I was hailed as a visionary. The second time, I was quietly asked to retire.”
Obviously, Tesla and Fox are two men greatly under-appreciated by society, and that is an aspect of why they so willingly help Angier and Wayne.
Still not convinced? There’s always the character of Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), who sets out at Angier’s request to live a double-life to find out the secrets of Borden, only to fall in love with him/Fallon. It’s a stretch, but throughout the movie we’re led to believe that she steals and plots and backstabs, not unlike that of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) in The Dark Knight Rises, or, depending upon if you’re looking at it from Borden or Angier’s side, Talia (Marion Cotillard).
But let’s get away from characters for a bit and look, briefly, at some other elements that stick out as being fairly close. You have the fact that in The Prestige, Angier wears a leg brace and walks with a cane (Bruce Wayne), the fact that at one point, Fallon is buried alive, not unlike the policemen in The Dark Knight Rises, and what about that super-lengthy expositional conversation between Borden and Angier when he appears near the end of the film and shoots him in the lower abdomen? Where have we seen that before? Perhaps in the scene in which Talia stabs Batman (in the ribs, lower abdomen) and then proceeds to rattle off absolutely everything that’s happened to her since she was a young girl. As Batman supposedly lays dying, of course. Like Angier. Who was not in The Dark Knight Rises. I think.
But even if that’s not enough, there is the fact that Borden spends quite a bit of time in prison, where everything is taken away from him and he finds solace, “death,” and “rebirth,” as we find out that it isn’t Borden in prison at all, but is Fallon. We then see Borden swoop in in the nick of time to save the life of his daughter and take down the “bad” guy. You know, the “bad” guy who felt like he had won and needed to dish out his own brand of justice, while at the same time loving the woman who had ultimately saved him from a personal hell.
Now, this isn’t the only case in which this happens. Tons of movies do this and they go somewhat unnoticed without being analyzed by people with too much time on their hands. And that leads me to my question to you: What are some movies in a director’s (or writer’s) filmography that obviously have borrowed elements that seem to constantly reoccur? Let us know down in the comment section and we’ll promise to be mystified with your intelligence.