Ok, so The Prestige is one of Christopher Nolan’s strongest movies, and it’s definitely a film that gets better and better the more that you watch it. It’s one of the only films I’ve seen where I finished watching it and immediately started it up again in order to see how everything was connected. Filled with insane details, amazing foreshadowing, and a lot of things you might miss, I thought I’d take a trip through the film to discuss everything about it.
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The Prestige Breakdown
So the movie centers around the Victorian magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden…and his twin. We watch as their rivalry escalates further and further, and being someone who exists in the highly competitive landscape that is Youtube, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve even been pulled into vicious things like this too.
I’m sure lots of people have found rivalries similar to this, and the characters in the film have one that develops into an obsession. Unintentionally, this leads to the death of their loved ones and them being truly alone in the world.
The deaths of the characters wives actually foreshadow their own, and early on, they reflect the fate that’s in store for each character.
Angier’s wife Julia drowns in a box, and this is of course mirrored in the death that the versions of him face if they’re trapped in the tank.
One of the Borden brothers dies by hanging, and this is set up by his wife’s death earlier in the film, who hangs herself at the midpoint.
The film is very much about duplicates and mirrors, with Angier creating copies of himself in order to pull off an impossible magic trick. This is mirrored in the Bordens, who are revealed to be twins at the end, showing how there was a hidden double in the movie the entire time.
Both use copies; we just don’t see it, and the opening two shots actually spoil the way that their tricks are carried out.
The film opens with the duplicated hats on the ground, and we later learn that this is how Borden carries out his trick.
Immediately after this, we see birds in cages, with them all being doubles of each other, similar to how Angier does his.
Every time Angier steps into the box, he’s taking the risk that the consciousness he currently carries is going to be the one stuck in the tank at the end, and deaths like this are foreshadowed early on. We see a magic trick being performed by the magician, The Great Virgil. He smacks down on a trap with a bird, making it disappear before he brings it back. Nolan tells us the truth of this trick early on by revealing that the first bird was killed and that the second one who appears is simply a double.
This is very much the case with Angier, who kills a version of himself in order to have a duplicate come out the other side, making us think that he has returned.
Michael Caines’s character John Cutter says that we don’t really want to know the truth of what goes on in these tricks because knowing that someone or something died would horrify us.
Instead, we’re caught up in the wonder, and if people knew what Angier was really up to, they’d be terrified.
In the scene following the bird’s death, we also get the line.
Where’s his brother?
It’s pretty much spoiling the entire twist to say that Borden has a brother.
This is followed up immediately after by Borden showing that he has a double-sided coin for the kid.
Dual Symbolism In The Prestige
You probably don’t need me to tell you, but there being two heads here on one object very much symbolizes how the two Borden brothers are playing the one person, Alfred. Now there’s also this idea played upon by the two women who end up falling in love with, quote, “Alfred.
Sarah calls him Al, and Olivia ends up calling him Fred. This is because she was in love with Frederick, whereas Sarah was in love with Al. Put both names together and you get Alfred, which is such a smart way to show the two people living this one life.
This is reflected in the dialogue too during an argument.
This is because she’s with her brother, who doesn’t love her.
This also explains why Borden genuinely doesn’t know what knot he tied on Angier’s wife.
Even though his wife is gone, Angier continues to wear his wedding ring throughout the movie. However, he removes it just before the trick. We see this at roughly the one-hour 40 mark, with him taking it off and passing it to his assistant. He does this while getting undressed to make it seem like he’s trying to strip himself down before he steps into the machine. However he’s actually doing this so that the Angier who comes out the other side can take it with it still being the original instead of a copy. The machine does duplicate clothing, but I feel like Angier holds this item higher than anything else, which is why he doesn’t want it to simply be copied.
Now the entire movie itself is also written and paced out like its own magic trick.
This is reflected in the film too, and movies are typically broken up into three acts.
Now the pledge is the first part of the trick, and this involves the magician showing us an object and allowing people to inspect it to make sure everything is above board.
This is to show us it’s unordinary, and it allows the magician to take what we know to be true and then break the rules of it.
This is reflected in the film, with us seeing Angier and Borden early on as normal men that we see the day-to-day lives of. They’re ordinary, not really anything special, and that takes us into the second act, which is called The Turn.
The magician takes something ordinary and makes it do something extraordinary.
This is the case in the film too, with Borden’s trick being something that we can’t really get our heads around even though Cutter tells us numerous times that he’s using a double.
Lastly comes the prestige, which is of course what the movie is named after.
Cutter says that making something disappear is easy, but making it come back is the difficult part.
This is the final act and it’s also reflected in the final act of the movie.
Both Angier and Borden come back with the truth of what really happened to them revealed.
This is the final act of the trick and very much the prestige.
Aha, he said it.
Now, like a lot of Nolan’s work, we get the timeline playing out in non-chronological order, with us having to figure out the pieces of what’s going on.
We start off with the trick carried out by Angier and watch as Borden sneaks back stage to see how it works.
Here he passes blind stage hands who have been hired so that they can’t tell the truth of what really happens. This was a common practice carried out by pharaohs in order to keep their secrets, and it’s also something Kingpin adopted in Daredevil to hide his drug operations.
Cut to a trial to see that Borden has been framed for the murder of Angier.
Angiers wife of course died by drowning in a tank like this, and thus I think it was chosen as a way for him to taunt Borden. Borden was never punished for Angier’s wife drowning, and Angier very much uses this to frame him so, in his eyes, he gets his comeuppance.
In the wings waits Borden’s daughter, along with his brother in disguise as a man named Fallon. I hate to admit it, but when I first watched the movie, I never paid attention to this guy. He appears throughout the movie wearing this costume, but Nolan very much uses his camera like a slight of hand to make sure our focus is never on him.
A solicitor named Owens arrives at the prison and says that he represents Lord Cordlow. Later revealed to be Angier, Cordlow has promised to look after Borden’s daughter in exchange for the trick. The lawyer hands over Angiers diary, and it’s through this framing device that we explore the past. Cut to Angier traveling to Collarado, and he has Borden’s diary, which is written using a cipher to keep the secret, mirroring how much the pair did whatever they could to hide their knowledge from others.
After seeing that the entire town has electricity, Angier travels up to meet the real-life figure of Nikola Tesla. Played by David Bowie, this genius had his own rivalry with Thomas Edison, who was notorious for trying to steal his work.
I definitely recommend that you check out the film The Current War, which goes over this and shows how the pair are notorious for their rivalry.
Eddisons goons pop up throughout the film and shoutouts to Scott From Whatculture for pointing out that during the exhibition Tesla holds that there is a man in the audience shouting down how his work is unsafe. This leads to people walking out, and it casts a shadow over Tesla’s work.
Later on in the film, we actually see this man at the hotel, and we discover that Tesla’s lab was destroyed shortly after his arrival.
Now Angier gets brushed off by Tesla’s helper Alley, who is played by Andy Serkis.
This might be a reach—well, it is—but in a nice bit of coincidental filmmaking, reddit user DrMannsPlanet noticed that Alley asks Angier what he’s holding in his hand as he walks away. This is something that mentalists would do in the 1800s, and they’d guess what was in someone’s pocket.
This same game happened in the Hobbit between Bilbo and Gollum, which later played out in an unexpected journey.
From here, we jump back to the past to see the magician Milton played by real-life magician Ricky Jay. He’s gained some notoriety and has a long-standing show with Angelers’ wife as the assistant.
To the left and right of the stage, we can see two tanks of water with dummies inside, once again foreshadowing the twist at the end.
In the movie, we learn that Angier is more of a showman, whereas Borden is far more technical. This was shown to us early on with Angier lapping up being on stage and bowing to the audience whilst Borden just strolls up. This scene sets up the tying of the knots, which ultimately leads to Angier’s wife’s death. Borden wants to do more complicated ones, even though it’s only for his own ego. The trick works completely fine without it, but he wants to constantly push the limits of magic.
Backstage, he talks about how Milton never takes risks and won’t even try a bullet catch, which literally backfires on Borden later on.
Like it actually backfires, nice work, Nolan.
Borden talks about how he has his own trick and says that he can’t sell it because no one else but him can do it.
No prizes for guessing why.
They go and visit a magician named Chung Ling Soo, and Borden instantly figures out that the entire magician’s public persona is an act. Of course, this is the secret to his own trick and the total devotion to his art that Borden also has. Chung Ling Soo has spent his entire life pretending to be someone else, which Angier also brings up.
The Prestige Ending Explained
At this point his wife coins the name The Great Danton for him, which he hates but ends up adopting as a tribute.
When we’re pulled out of the diary, Angier remarks that Borden doesn’t know anything about sacrifice, which we know is a lie.
We then get the “bird trick” with the brother line and Bordon saying this.
You’re the lucky one today.
This is something Angier later mirrors, stating that that day he’s the lucky one who gets to walk away from the trick.
Bordon hits it off with Sarah and takes her home, which is where the pair say goodbye. He then magically appears in her house, which, in hindsight, we know is due to his brother.
With Cutter, we watch as Cordlow wants to take all of Angiers haul, which we know is actually him trying to take possession of his own stuff. Now the backstory with Cordlow is something that shows the hypocrisy of Angier. He says that he couldn’t live a lie, but in fact, he is. Angier’s real name is Cordlow, with Angier being the actor. Born into a rich family, he longed to become a magician, but being a performer would’ve brought shame upon his family, and thus he adopted an alias.
I’ve always wondered if the two characters here are also stand-ins for the Nolan brothers.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have both had their own successes, but it is possible that they had a sibling rivalry. Jonathan was actually educated in Chicago, where he ended up gaining an American accent. Christopher doesn’t share this, and Angier has an American accent, while Bordon is British. However, like Jonathan, it is possible that Angier is British due to his being a lord and having a manor in England. Johnathan said that he initially had a British accent like his brother, but he realized he was pretty unpopular in Chicago because of it and dropped it.
It might be a reach, but it’s just something I thought about when rewatching the film.
Cutter warns that the transported man doesn’t actually have a trick to it and that it’s real, which makes it infinitely more dangerous.
The funeral plays out with Cutter saying that he spoke to someone who drowned and that it was like going home. This is something that he later says was a lie and that it was agony, which is a line that still gives me goosebumps thinking about it. Now the line at the funeral might explain why Angier thinks that drowning his copies is merciful. He thinks it’s like going home, when in reality it’s a horrifying fate for the ones dumped in the box.
Sarah reveals she’s pregnant, and Borden says
We’re having a baby.
This is something couples often say, but it takes on a new meaning here with there being two of them. He also talks about how Fallon comes up with the tricks and how he’ll split their earnings with him 50/50.
We go to see the bullet trick being performed and see a poster with lots of names on it, including Harry Dresden. Huge shoutouts to Numerous Lemon on Reddit for pointing out that this is actually a reference to The Dresden Files.
Borden shows off a trick that involves linking two separate rings together, which…might be a reach or it might be symbolic of the brothers being linked as one.
Angier ends up shooting him, which blows off his two fingers, and we later learn that the Borden brother had to remove his own fingers in order to keep up the illusion they were one and the same.
Nice little detail on a second watch when Sarah says
It’s as bad as the day it happened.
Now Angier ends up hiring Cutter due to his not being able to get work because of Julia’s death.
They hire Olivia, played by Scarjo, to live in the building.
They also come up with a way to carry out a bird trick without killing it. Angier doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, but we see how this mindset changes over the course of the film. However, Bordon later sabotages this trick, damaging a woman’s fingers, which mirrors how his were blown off.
Angier’s act is ruined, and we cut to him at the hotel translating Borden’s diary.
In an amazing bit of attention to detail, here we see on his hand that he tucks in two of his fingers, mimicking how the Bordens would read and write the cypher. He states Borden has his mind divided and broken, torn between his family life and his work. Angier is so close to figuring out what Bordon actually does for his trick, but he can’t quite put his finger on it.
He travels out to see Tesla, who is played by David Bowie in one of the best bits of casting in the film.
Borden starts to unveil his trick, the transported man, to the public. I love the way that this is teased, almost like its own magic trick, with us seeing the reactions first before later seeing what happens during it.
Cutter instantly figures it out, but Borden can’t get his head around him potentially using a double due to his twin being a secret.
Borden buys his family a house, and we get this line.
I asked you last week.
Clearly she was with the other brother at this point, which is such a good line on a second watch.
Angier hires a double, but his need to see the reaction of the people is what pushes him further. He hates hearing the reaction from beneath the stage, and due to him being a showman, he craves the spotlight.
The double talks about the people he’s played in the past, namely Ceaser and Faust.
Reddit user Mister Farenheit 120 pointed out that both of these figures were undone by their own ambition, and this foreshadows the fate that awaits Angier.
That night he debuts his trick, The New Transported Man,” and he starts it off by making a flower appear from his hand.
If you slow down the film and look at his hand before he brings it up to Olivia’s face, you’ll notice that it slips out of his sleeve before he presents it.
Angier sends Olivia in as a mole, but this backfires, and she feels cast out, so she sides with Borden.
He goes to Angiers double and does an inception to plant the idea in his mind that because he’s the key to the trick, he has the power.
He hijacks Angiers acts and humiliates him whilst advertising his own act.
Angier goes to Borden, and Olivia says that she’s watched him closely and there is no act. Angier states that he leaves props and costumes backstage as a way to fool her because he lives and breathes his act. He still can’t see the truth, though, and he burns bridges with her before we cut to Cutters.
On the floor, we see two birds once more foreshadowing the twist and watch as Borden becomes more and more famous.
Knowing that Angier has been watching him he decides to walk home to draw him out. However, this is a trick to draw Fallon out, and Angier puts him in a box similar to how his doubles end up. He’s buried alive, and the clones are, of course, dumped into the tank fully conscious.
He gets the cipher word, which isTesla,” and travels out to America, leaving Cutter behind.
Borden goes to meet his wife, and he says he’s celebrating because he almost lost something very special to him, of course referencing how his brother almost died, which would destroy his entire career.
Angier finally cracks the diary and discovers that it’s all been a trick. He gave Olivia the diary to hand to him and the wordTesla,” which would send him to America and waste his time. Or so he thought.
Tesla actually cracks the code on how to duplicate objects, and he creates a copy of Alley’s cat.
After an argument with his wife, Angier goes to Fallon and says that Olivia knows. She finally figures out he’s living a half life and ends hers because she doesn’t want to live a lie.
Angier also tells Fallon that his daughter wants to go to the zoo and that he should take her. However, he says that if he can’t, he can take her tomorrow because he’ll of course be in disguise instead.
Tesla flees, but he leaves behind the machine for Angier.
Angier runs the test and then kills his double. I dunno why he doesn’t just let the first one live and then carry out the tricks living as two people, but maybe he was unwilling to sacrifice the way he lived for his work.
He does a reverse uno card and in the diary reveals to Borden that he tricked him.
Angier starts his run and I love how the guy booking the shows figures out what’s really happening but he insists that they have to dress it up.
We discover that Sarah wanted to meet Olivia the day before she died because she had something to tell her. She didn’t, and she wants to know what the truth is.
Borden tells her that the truth is that he never loved Sarah and that he actually loved her the entire time. In hindsight, this conversation brings a lot with it, as we see how the Borden brothers both loved someone. Olivia leaves him, and we witness the sacrifice once more because both lose out.
Throughout the entire film, Borden has been guessing Angiers tricks instantly, but upon seeing the final one, he can’t figure it out. This drives him over the edge, and they stalk the show, watching the tanks get tailgated every night.
Borden says he’s done and to leave him alone, as they can’t figure it out. He says to Fallon, “Don’t go back there,” but this unfortunately falls on deaf ears, and he ends up falling into Angiers trap, which allows him to be framed for his murder.
Cawdlow visits Borden in jail with his daughter, and it’s at this point that he reveals the truth.
He returns home to find Cutter there, who’s shocked to see him still alive.
He realizes that he’s complicit in Angiers execution, and at the prison, we see the brothers say goodbye.
These lines obviously bring a lot with them, and now he can go off and do his own thing. We see his prisoner number is d23, and Disney was responsible for distributing the movie. The cell number d23 popped up in Civil War as well, and whether it’s intentional or not, it might be the company giving itself a pat on the back for their convention.
Cutter tells Angier the truth about the pain in drowning and after leaving Borden arrives. He throws the ball at him, which is thrown back to Borden in prison. This ball was of course part of his transported man trick, and it’s very much the way that Borden returns. This is the prestige of bringing the man back after making him disappear, which is cemented by the fact that this scene happens alongside Alfred’s death.
His final words areAbrakadabra,” and this magical word has of course existed in the pantheons of magic for centuries.
However, it is actually neatly slotted into the film through the character names.
Alfred Borden’s initials are A B, and Robert Angiers initials are R A.
Put them together, and you get Abra, which is such a nice touch.
Borden explains the truth, and it’s such an amazing twist that I really don’t think anyone saw it coming. Angier also reveals to Borden what he does and the fact that he has to murder himself. The copy actually believes that he’s the original, and in truth, we don’t know which one really is because they both are. The one who isn’t transported is the one who dies, and technically, the copy is the one who carries on.
Borden thinks he’s done this all for nothing, but Angier says it was all worth it to see the look on people’s faces.
As his hideaway burns to the ground, we see that he has lined up all of the copies who died, and this is accompanied by the birds in cages from the start. The water tanks line the location and are filled with corpses, similar to the birds that line the wall.
It’s a chilling way to end the movie, and at least one Borden gets to raise the daughter the pair made.
That closes out the movie, and once more it remains one of my favorite films ever made. It’s incredible to think that Nolan made this in between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and it stands as one of the most tightly woven pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen.
I’d of course love to hear your thoughts on the movie, so make sure you comment below and let me know.
If you want something else to watch, then make sure you check out our breakdown of the perfect scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming. We break down the entire thing, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to know more.
With that out of the way, thank you for sitting through the video; I’ve been Paul, and I’ll see you next time. Take care, Peace