‘Nightmare Alley’ overuses trope of magician act 

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Photo courtesy of EcranLarge.

Defne Onal managing editor 

In the remake of the “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro goes all out. As a result, everything about the movie, including its setting, decor and emotions, is blatantly ostentatious. There is no denying that the film’s cinematography is beautiful. However, the purpose and overarching theme of the film are overused.

The movie centers around Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), an enterprising man dealt a bad hand in life, who is given a job at a shady carnival. But, most important to the plot, he becomes captivated by a performer called  “the geek,” a tortured addict sold to the audience as an inhuman creature who eats live chickens. Slowly, Stan works his way up the ladder of magician fraud and, unsurprisingly, loses his moral values. 

Although there is nothing terrible about the premise of the film, the problem is that it has all been shown before in much better ways, particularly in movies such as “The Prestige” by Christopher Nolan. In both films, the main characters develop a magical act to defraud people. As the plot progresses, the so-called magicians lose people they love due to their decreasing moral values. Both movies depict black-and-gray morality and try to convey a serious message about society. The difference is that “The Prestige” actually succeeds at it. 

Ironically, del Toro’s attempts to make the movie meaningful leech all its meaning. Because of the film’s didactic element, he tries to keep it entertaining with showy shots, which results in a movie that is excessively long and bloated. The cast, particularly Toni Collette and Rooney Mara, who are too sophisticated and experienced for their simple characters, seems to be misplaced.

As Stan’s magic act carries out, he seeks relief with psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who seduces him. Blanchett’s charisma is excellent as always; however, her betrayal of Stan at the end comes as no surprise. After all, Dr. Lilith’s depraved and ruthless nature is evident throughout the movie. the mystique advertised in the promos isn’t there. The movie seems to be building up to something, but Dr. Lilith’s two-dimensional character doesn’t add much to the storyline. 

The only good part of the movie is the final scene. [SPOILER ALERT] Stan spirals and runs away, seeking a job at a new carnival once again as an alcoholic. Stan expresses contempt for “geeks” throughout the film in carnival shows. Finally, however, the carnival owner offers him a “temporary” job as a geek. After all he has done to stay on top of the food chain, Stan realizes that he has become a subhuman geek and breaks down laughing and crying because of it. The film makes the point that Stan’s hubris ultimately becomes his downfall. It’s a great ending to a movie with an otherwise mediocre and overused plot. 

Remakes can be entertaining to watch if they’re an innovative take on the subject, but del Toro empties the plot of any meaning, making “Nightmare Alley” a cheap rendering of other movies that take on the fraudulent magician act. 

Highlights rates this movie 2/5.

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