Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Prestige

"Do not obsess about your life." Matt. 6:25

Competition feeds our society. Whether it's sports, politics, academics, or daily work, we are driven to compete against our peers and succeed no matter the cost.

The Prestige follows two illusionists Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) in their life's journey to outwit each other. The setting of the film is that Borden is accused of killing Angier in a magic trick gone wrong, and we follow their memories to see what has led to this disastrous end to two illusionists' lives.

What we see is that an obsession has overwhelmed both men. Stemming from jealosy and a refusal to forgive, the two illusionists carve out their careers in order to one-up the other. In caring more about their art than their lives, they push away and lose those who love and care for them. They destroy all things of value so that they can achieve their final success.

In today's society, this desire to outwit others and an obsession to win can kill us as it killed Angier and Borden. I am not saying that all competition is bad, but when we care more about winning than playing the game, we destroy ourselves.

In The Prestige, Angier's motivation was pleasing the crowd; he wanted to look good and get the applause. Borden's motivation was to do so well that no one could ever figure out how he did it; he lived a life of total secrecy from everyone.

What is our motivation to do our best work or to win the game? Is it because we want to prove something to others? Is it because we are so proud of our talents?

Competition for competition's sake is misguided. When we compete, let's pray not to become obsessed with winning. Let's not sacrifice our very lives for our jobs, our education, or the game itself. In the film, both men challenge each other to "get your hands dirty."

But at what cost?

Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie) advises Angier, "Go home. Forget this thing. I can recognize an obsession and no good will come of it." When Angier challenges Tesla because his own life was built on obsessing over his work, he responds, "I followed by obsessions too long. I'm their slave, and one day they'll choose to destroy me."

In the gospels, Jesus warns his disciples against their anxiety of succeeding; he told them, "Do not obsess about your life. Do not worry about what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you wear, what you look like. Is not life more than food and your body worth more than how you look?" (Matt. 6:25).

Jesus added, no one ever added a moment to their lives because of their obsessions. Psychologists today tells us the opposite is actually true: by being so anxious about these little things, we might end up living a shorter life.

If our lives are caught up in our work, our education, our competitions, our obsessions, then we will have wasted the life God gave us. Instead, we are called to let go of these obessions, and then we will have a clear focus on our interpersonal relationships, our family and friends, and we will have time to make this world a better place to live.

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