The Prestige
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable. This FAQ page is especially ridden with spoilers, due to the nature of the film in question.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Prestige can be found here.

Two rival magicians -- Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) -- will stop at very little in order to best his opponent. When Borden comes up with an act that he calls "The Transported Man," in which he bounces a ball across the stage before stepping through a door and instantly reappears from a second door on the opposite side of the stage to catch the ball, Angier becomes obsessed with finding out how the trick works. He seeks out famed inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) who claims to have developed a teleporter but that the machine doesn't seem to work. Angier discovers that the machine actually does work but as a duplicator, not as a teleporter. Each time the machine is used, it creates a duplicate of the item being teleported and deposits that duplicate elsewhere. Angier obtains a Tesla machine and begins using it in his act, which he calls "The New Transported Man," provoking Borden's interest in learning how Angier is accomplishing his act.

Yes. The Prestige is a 1995 novel by British author Christopher Priest. The novel was adapted for the movie by film-making brothers, Jonathan and Christopher Nolan. Christopher Nolan also directed the film.

Cutter describes every magic trick as having a three-act structure which consists of the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. The pledge is "a magician shows you something ordinary." The turn is that he makes it seem to do something extraordinary, disappear, levitate, transform etc. The prestige ( "..the hardest part..") is the payoff, the reward of the trick for the audience. In a trick like sawing a woman in half, the prestige is reconnecting her. In the central trick of the film, the prestige is when someone appears across the stage or theater having previously disappeared. This three act structure of a trick was invented for the film and is not based on actual terminology used by real life magicians. In the novel on which the film is based, the prestige is the spirits of the duplicate Angiers.

The beauty of this film is that there are no clear heroes or villains. Both Borden and Angier have good qualities (Borden is a genius with magic and Angier has great stage charisma), but both of them also have huge flaws (both of them are obsessive). A lot of people side with Angier because of the tragedy of his wife's death. However, it is clear from the look they exchange that Julia and Alfred's twin had conspired to try the knot that they knew was dangerous, so it could be argued that Julia's own stubbornness led to her death. Others side with Borden because of the scene between Olivia and Angier where it becomes clear that Angier isn't out to avenge his wife's death anymore: "I don't care about my wife. I care about his secret." This cold attitude gets worse throughout the film: he's willing to manipulate Olivia, bury "Fallon" alive, and ultimately let Alfred hang for a crime he knows he didn't commit. His willingness to let innocent people die is also illustrated by his instinctive shooting of his copy after first trying the machine on himself, and the fact that he lets his clones die night after night in the same way that his own wife died. Through all of the film's twists and turns, every character ends up getting what they deserve: Angier's heartless attitude and inability to see the simplicity of the situation lead to his death at Alfred's hands. Alfred's obsessive attitude toward magic costs him his fingers, his wife, his brother, and almost his daughter. Alfred's twin, who was rash and hot-headed and inadvertently caused the deaths of both Julia and Sarah, ends up being hanged.

Yes. Nikola Tesla [1856-1943] was a Serbian scientist and inventor who is often called "the father of physics" for his major contributions in the fields of electricity and electromagnetism, including his work in alternating current (AC) electrical power. However, his eccentric personality and his bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments also earned him the title of "mad scientist," and he died impoverished at the age of 86. Tesla's later years saw him pursuing more and more unusual applications of technology, with many rumored goals including anti-gravity, death rays, and yes, teleportation. None of these pursuits, however, were ever actualized.

Angier and Lord Caldlow are the same person, as he explains near the end of the movie. Early in the film, Angier's wife Julia (Piper Perabo) says that he is living a double life. Angier responds to this by saying that he only did that to "spare my family the embarrassment of my theatrical interests." Angier had been born to the aristocratic Caldlow family. He adopted the identity of Robert Angier because he wanted to pursue a career in magic and such a career would have embarrassed his aristocratic family. At the end of the film he simply reclaims his original identity. At his wife's suggestion of calling himself "The Great D'Anton", he seems to takes offense at being associated with the French. This suggestion would likely be more of an insult to an Englishman rather than an American in the period in which the film is set. Also, during his wife's funeral Angier's accent noticeably slips from American to English, providing a further clue to his real identity.

Right before Borden is hanged he says "Abracadabra", a subtle comment to the audience. He is referring to the 'magic' which unfolds in the very next scene, when Borden's twin appears in front of Angier.

"Analyse" by Thom Yorke, from his album "The Eraser".

Who played Root?

Angier and Root are both played by Hugh Jackman. For Root, Jackman's appearance was modified using a dental prosthesis and false earlobes (Angier, like Jackman, has attached earlobes and Root has unattached ones). Jackman's nose also appears to have been altered. Trick photography was used when Angier and Root appeared together. When one or the other was seen only from the rear - a double was used.

They were from Harry Percy (Hotspur) in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1. Appearing before the king to explain his failure to turn over prisoners in a recent battle, he claims "My liege, I did deny no prisoners, but I remember, when the fight was done...." Why this quote? The quotation lends credibility to the characterization of Angier's double as a classical actor, plucked from the ranks of out-of-work actors to play his part. This particular speech is actually known to be Hugh Jackman's set piece that he sometimes used to audition for parts.

At this early point in the film, the audience is supposed to believe that the machine is a real teleporter and suggests that Cutter (Michael Caine), Angier's partner, knows the secret of the trick and that he knows that it can truly teleport a person. This is actually a red herring and is done to the audience so that they will be surprised when it is revealed at the end that Cutter (and Ackerman) had been fooled by the trick, and that the machine was not only a teleporter but a duplicator as well; Angier was drowning a duplicate of himself for every performance of the trick. Cutter could also be trying hyperbole to misdirect the judge. He is not "lying" since he uses the term "real magic" to also refer to tricks that he seems to believe are illusions and not supernatural magic. The movie suggests that Cutter may not want the judge to question him about the machine too much, since it is clear from the film that Angier did not share the secret of the machine with Cutter. Cutter is clearly not being honest in court when he indicates that he knows the secret and has the rights to sell it.

As he reveals in his diary, Borden sends Angier to Tesla as part of a wild goose chase. He intends this to remove his main rival from the stage, figuratively and literally, thus allowing Borden to consolidate his status as the top magical performer in London. As for Borden's line "Tesla is the key to my diary but not to my trick", he means exactly what he says. "Tesla" is the key to solving the cypher which Borden's diary is written in, but Tesla has nothing to do with how the Bordens perform their trick. Borden simply commissioned Tesla to build him a fancy box that shoots electrical charges for show; it had no real function.

This question is not explicitly answered within the film. One side of the arguement is that Angier intended to stop doing the transported man "A wise man once told me obsession is a young man's game" and only wanted to prove to Borden that he did the trick better "I only wanted to prove I was the better magician, and I win". So it seems Angier's only sole purpose wasn't to frame Borden. But the other side of the arguement is by limiting the number of shows to a finite number (100), Angier added urgency and ensured that Borden would eventually have to act. He would have to sneak backstage or forever be in the dark about how Angier did the trick. If Angier had an unlimited run of the show then Borden could always put off discovering Angier's trick till some other time. Also, making a duplicate drown everytime, making sure that nobody found out, was difficult.

The suggestion of Angier framing Borden seems to come from Cutter, not Angier. It is suggested during the trial that Cutter may have set Borden up, but even that is revealed to be untrue. What the movie does suggest is that Borden's obsessive need to discover Angier's secret led to his being discovered with a dead Angier. We are then shown that the duplicate Angier allowed him to be convicted. Whether or not he set things in motion with the police, the lawyers, the stagehands, and even Cutter to actually do a frame is not detailed so remains only speculation.

The answer is not fully spelled out in the film but the obvious answer seems to be that Angier recognized Borden when the latter came on stage to "inspect" the machinery. Since the duplicate has all the knowledge of the original, the Angier who was created knew not to appear. We do see a flashback, seemingly from Angier's perspective, looking down from the balcony onto the audience and hearing Borden screaming for the key. This would only confirm that Angier should disappear, as it was long after he should have appeared to the audience.

While this on the face is a logical answer (just use Angier and the body double to replicate the trick), there are a number of reasons why killing the clones was necessary: First reason is for practicality and fame. Angier already knew how difficult it was keeping Root, a duplicate. It would have been extremely difficult to manage to keep two Angiers a secret in public, whilst also managing who gets the fame and the spotlight etc when Angier is known to be a obsessive man and performer. The other main reason is that to truly discover Borden's trick, Angier's competitive nature meant he had to figure a way to frame Borden and to gain revenge. Angier couldn't have known whether or not Borden would sneak backstage, so he had to kill his duplicate every single show until Borden does and be framed for his murder, thereby allowing him (as Lord Caldlow) to blackmail and threaten Borden to reveal his secret and to gain revenge.

The film actually has two twists, one for each of the rival storylines and how the trick is performed, each of which is revealed near the end of the film:

The Borden twist is that Borden and Fallon are a pair of identical twins who take turns as each persona, switching whenever the trick is done. Hence, each time we see a character we used to think of as "Borden" since the beginning of the movie, it was one or the other person, each with his own personality, points of view, privity to certain situations, etc... Which is why when writing on his diary about the day he was asked by Angier which knot did he tie Julia with, he says that one half of him swears that he tied a simple slipknot while the other half is convinced that he used the Langford double.

The Angier twist is that Tesla never was able to fix the teleporter he tried to create. Angier was using the machine as a teleporter for the trick, but each time one of two resulting Angiers fell through a trapdoor during the performance and drowned in the water tank.

Cutter's motivations are never detailed in the film, either at the end or even during the trial. Thus, his motivations are probably varied and contain elements of several possibilities:

(1) Cutter may have felt betrayed by Angier. Angier kept the secret of the trick from him and on some level he probably also felt like he was used by Angier. In Cutter's discovery that Angier was not dead, he seemed to realize the real secret of the machine and would have been angry at Angier for allowing Borden to hang.

(2) Cutter may have felt guilty for his part in Borden's hanging (not being honest in the trial about not really knowing the trick, not asking the stagehands what really happened at every performance, and claiming that Borden was just watching Angier drown) turned to anger at Angier.

(3) Cutter's motivation may have been to get the machine for himself, presumably to make some money on it. He lied on the stand that he had the rights to sell the machine. When it became clear that he was not going to get the machine to sell (he did not even get the watertank), he tried to buy the machine. Since one of the Borden twins was dead, with Angier dead, he would be the only one with a teleportation trick.

(4) Cutter may have been trying to get the machine in order to destroy it; he seems suspicious and somewhat disturbed by it, although this may have been an act on his part, as he is never shown to have reservations about the danger while Angier is alive.

(5) Finally, Cutter may have had elements of a more noble motivation. Cutter did not seem pleased that Angier had taken Jess away from her father and Cutter may even have felt he could have done more to prevent Borden from hanging just to keep the secret.

(6) Cutter didn't exactly betray Angier. At the end Cutter realized how the competition between Angier and Borden was so toxic and was affecting everyone around them. Sarah committed suicide, Olivia was caught in a love triangle between the two men before finally leaving, now Borden's daughter was to be left in the care of Angier after Angier let Borden hang. That was probably too much for Cutter to take as he believes Borden's daughter should be with her father. So Cutter decides once and for all that he wasn't going to be involved in their competition anymore and simply washed his hands of the situation by walking past Borden, knowing full well what would probably happen to Angier. Cutter probably knew all along or at least suspected that Borden had a twin brother because he was adamant that the "teleporting man" trick had to be done with a double.

Because Cutter is our narrator. He knows all along that Borden uses a double, and he feels that Angier has crossed the line, and worse, has made a huge moral change. We must remember that it was Angier who claimed no interest in "killing pidgeons", but by the end of the film, is prepared to watch any number of people die, including Root, to serve his ends. Cutter sees this, and sees that Angier has lost it. As narrator, he needs to be trustworthy to the audience, and thus takes the role of social and moral centre who brings to a close the one "right" solution. Return the child to her father.

Those who have both seen the movie and read the book say that the two are quite different. There are some themes and ideas taken from the novel and many of the same character names are used, but the story is very different and even the characters themselves are different individuals. The book is set up as a mysterious frame narrative in a contemporary setting from the point of view of a descendant of one of the magicians, and we learn about the rivalry through the diary entries that this descendant reads.

Major plot points were completely changed: Julia does not die; Sarah does not die; Borden is not hanged. (He is not even convicted, tried, or accused of killing Angier); Borden and Angier are not colleagues, they barely know each other; Borden does not kill Angier; Cutter is only a minor character. Cutter convinces Angier relatively early in the novel that the Bordens are identical twins. Later, Angier investigates the birth records and discovers that there is no record of a twin. (Albert has a brother, Freddy, who is 2 years younger, but a photo shows that they look nothing alike, having different builds and facial features. In the novel, this is revealed to have been doctored, and that they had planned their trick from an early age.)

Another major change deals with the Tesla machine. In the novel, the machine is clearly shown to be a teleportation device, but does not create living duplicates. The item or person in the machine is teleported to a new location and inert material that looks like the original is left behind (in the novel, Angier refers to these as "the prestige materials"). The prestige materials do not decompose over time, even after a century, but remain exactly as the were at the moment of duplication. The only time two living duplicates are created in the novel is when an incomplete transfer occurs after Borden turns the machine off in mid-teleport. Most of Angier stays behind, but a small mass (he is viewed as a ghostly image) is teleported. There are two distinct minds (with similar memories) with very different bodies. The teleportation device becomes Angier's way to immorally improve his position in society, because, against Tesla's warnings, he uses it almost entirely to create duplicate gold coins, and sometimes paper money amassing a fortune for his family.

At the end of the novel, Angier is in fact still alive, in this ghostly form, even a century after the novel's main Victorian events. The novel even suggests that there is some psychic link between the teleported body and the prestige, suggesting that they think and feel the same to some extent. It makes the ending of the novel more haunting as we imagine he may have lost a part of his "soul" with each teleportation.

The end of the novel in fact verifies that the prestige material (the duplicate body) while rigid and immobile, possess a soul. Only one person other than Angier is transported, and this is a child we learn is speaking telepathically with the main narrator of the novel, the grandson of Borden. The "ghost" version of Angier asks him, are you leaving, or staying here with him. Obviously suggests that he is aware that these prestige materials has souls.

Screen-writer and Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Roger Ebert describes the ending of the film as a "fundamental flaw" in the film in his review ("Atmospherically lovely, 'Prestige' is, alas, a cheat; Christopher" Chicago Sun-Times, Sep 7, 2007) where he states:


"The pledge of Nolan's ''The Prestige'' is that the film, having been metaphorically sawed in two, will be restored; it fails when it cheats, as, for example, if the whole woman produced on the stage were not the same one so unfortunately cut in two."
R.J. Carter a science fiction author and a Senior Editor of "The Trades" describes being cheated more explicitly. In Carter's review of the DVD he states near the start:

"So why do I feel cheated?... Because after committing so much time and faith to the plot, I find out that the story is one of science fiction. Don't get me wrong -- I love a good science fiction story; just tell me in advance."
and concludes with:

"I just can't get over the sense of feeling cheated by the insertion of science/fantasy as the pivotal plot point -- an alien invasion would have seemed just as out of place."
Though the film already establishes the scientific nature of the story around the 9-minute mark when Angier reveals that he arrived at Colorado Springs specifically for Tesla's experiments that had been beneficial to a "colleague" of his, and the fantasy aspect is first referred to around the 21-minute mark when Cutter explains to the judge that Angier's machine does real magic. Both aspects are then combined at the 43-minute mark with Alley showing Angier the light bulb field. Not to mention that the very first shot of the film is of the duplicate hats that are later seen created by Tesla's machine. The official trailer also makes no secret of the story's mystical nature.

The movie does not explicitly answer this. The consensus interpretation is that the Tesla machine, whatever it was designed to do, results in two identical copies of an object or person (including memories, personalities, etc). One remains in the Tesla machine, and the other is either created or deposited a short distance away. Angier's lack of knowledge on its workings is part of his character's journey/development. There are four main possibilities: (1) The original stays in the machine and a duplicate is created at the destination, (like a fax machine) (2) the original is teleported and a duplicate is created within the machine, (Angier went to Tesla for a teleporting machine) (3) the original is destroyed and 2 copies are created, one in the machine and the other at the destination, [A variant of 1,2, & 3 is that instead of the machine creating the copy, the machine pulls the copy from a similar "quantum reality"] (4) some suggest that the machine may randomly switch between the first two option each time it's used (Tesla says "exact science is not an exact science") For example, one time the duplicate might be left in the machine and the next time the trick is performed, the duplicate might be the one to show up elsewhere. What is important is that Angier doesn't know. He says as much when he talks about not knowing if he'd be the man in the box or the prestige. This is intended to indicate just how identical each version of Angier is, including all his memories, character etc.

The novel explains that it is possible for the teleported man to indicate where he will show up. In the film, however, the cats and hats all appear at one spot during Tesla's experiments. Angier never appears at multiple sites, or as far from the machine as the hats and cats. Some viewers have concluded that the mass of the object may be related to the distance of the projection. In one scene, however, Tesla's assistant Alley (Andy Serkis) mentions "calibration," suggesting that it is possible to adjust the "destination." He is later said to have written Angier a detailed set of instructions, and when Angier first tests the machine, we see him making a chalk mark on the floor. Presumably he's testing the calibration and making sure the teleported Angier appears at the location he's tried to set. It's also notable that Angier's first double appeared significantly closer to the machine than the subsequent ones who appeared behind the audience during the shows.

The question is not answered or even alluded to within the film. Some theories that have been suggested are that the new matter could be created from the machine by converting electricity that powers the machine into mass. The new matter could be pulled from the "air" (that doesn't exist) or some alternate universe / quantum reality. It is even possible that the machine transmutes some of the mass from the destination (or the machine) into new material. Some viewers have suggested that Angier could be split into two identical beings, each with half the matter of the original Angier. Others have suggested that the machine may just be a prop in an illusion done by Angier, and that the scene with the double being shot is merely Angier thinking of lying to Borden about the machine as the scene is shown in flashback.

In the end, there is no provable physics that would account for this duplication. But this is not really the gist of the whole film. The idea is that people will see "Magic" where they want to; as Cutter tells Jess, "You want to be surprised." The average person will not care or understand the reason, especially anything remotely scientific, behind a magic trick. This is why the science (not that there is any) is skirted when it comes to transportation. People don't care. The main point is fooling them. It may also be an allegory for the way in which Tesla's very real science about alternating current as superior was hamstrung by Edison and Westinghouse, in their greed, thus reducing a very real physics application (which we now use universally, by the way), to a parlor trick. Just so, Cutter (by sympathising with Borden?) eventually dismisses Tesla's machine and Angier's "Transported Man" as tricks.

This is never answered in the movie, nor is it even a part of the film. Just because the real Tesla died poor, however, does not mean that the fictional Tesla did. In the fantasy world of the movie, perhaps Tesla did use a Tesla machine to live in the lap of luxury or provide funds for research for the rest of his life. He had the perfect source; all he had to claim was that he had a gold mine. The movie indicates that people had come to this area at this time for gold prospecting. Duplicating banknotes would have been not only been illegal but unethical since banknotes have no intrinsic value. Duplicating gold, jewels, or other items with intrinsic value would neither be illegal nor unethical. Another possibility is that this is a clue that machine did not duplicate at all, but was just a prop that Tesla sold as a con. One other explanation is that the process of creating such a machine was so unpredictable that he would be simply unsure whether he could create another. The duplication aspect was a glitch rather than being part of the design. The one duplication machine that he had ultimately did not belong to him.

Borden, as he explains at the end of the film, is a natural born twin. Other than his word there are several bits of evidence for this. First, Borden is seen to bilocate when he is a struggling magician working in basements. At that point he never could have paid for the duplication machine. Secondly, when Tesla creates the machine he is stymied as to how it works, something which he would not be if he had created one previously. Furthermore, when confronted by Angier, Alley confirms that Tesla never made the machine for another magician before. Most importantly, when the Bordens see Angier's final show they are totally stymied as to how he does his trick and completely shocked when he shows up alive after he drowned. If they had been duplicates then they would have immediately known, or at least suspected, that Angier was using a duplication machine, especially since they were the ones who sent Angier to Tesla. Another way to tell that the Bordens are natural twins is that they have distinctive personalities. One of them, the Borden hanged by the end of the film, is very rash and hot-headed. The one who lives and is reunited with his daughter is much more reserved, honest, and is willing to accept defeat to end the feud.

The question and answers presented above deal with what is portrayed within the film and as suggested by the film's creators. However, there has been considerable discussion and debate about possibilities not presented within the film. Following are some alternative theories.

One alternative theory is that Borden at some point learns about the existence of Tesla's machine and creates a duplicate of his own, which he then uses to do "The Transported Man" trick and with whom he shares the "Bernard Fallon" persona.

The surprising answer is yes. Many of the things presented within the film can be viewed as ambiguous, even though most do not see it as the intent of the filmmakers. In interviews, it has been suggested that the movie is meant to be ambiguous. There is an article here which supports the premise of the idea of alternate interpretations:


As he wrote, [Jonathan] Nolan never shied away from letting the audience draw their own conclusions about all that is going on in the raging battle between Angier and Borden. I love contentious stuff, he admits. Chris and I still argue about aspects of Memento and we've had arguments about The Prestige as well. I think if you get to the point where people are sitting around a table arguing about what your movie means, then you've done your job as a writer.
Some of the more popular theories involve whether or not the machine actually duplicates since there is nothing within the film that requires a working duplicator; everything can be explained presuming the machine is simply a prop. Thus there are some who believe that Nolan intended the twist to be that the machine is a prop. Others believe that the entire film is meant to be a debate and changes interpretation on how you see the film, like a perception illusion.

In this theory, Borden never met Tesla (or only sought a pretty device to dress up his act) but sends the gullible Angier on a wild-goose chase to America. The money-strapped Tesla sees how gullible Angier is and decides to con him out of some money. Tesla and Alley string Angier along, taking his money and showing him a light show with the Tesla coil, until Angier starts to suspect and then they use the cat to lead Angier to the field. The hats and the cat in the field are placed there by either Tesla or Alley to try and convince Angier (after he is led there) that the machine duplicated. When Tesla believes that he has milked all the money he can out of Angier, he gives him the machine.

Angier, discovering the con, knows that he can not go to court as he would look like a fool. Tesla could claim all the money went for the "light show" and that Angier must be very confused to believe he was going to make a real teleporter instead of a faux-teleporter. Angier, realizing he was conned, decides to convince Borden of the same con, believing that, if he could convince Borden the trick was not an illusion but "real magic," it would prove that Angier was the better illusionist. He works up a better trick, using the device and presumably a double. He plans the trick and also has dummies in tanks created, hoping that the curious Borden would follow the tanks to the warehouse and see the "corpses on display," and suspect duplication.

In addition, he plans a secondary trick for Borden, in case he goes backstage. If Borden investigates during the act, Angier plans on killing the double, believing that Borden would be found guilty even if the jury only believed it was accidental, caused by sabotage. It did not even matter to him if the dead body was identified as him or a double. Cutter misidentifies the dead body, so Angier decides to remain "hidden" and moves into his real life as Lord Caldlow. When Borden is in jail, Angier again tries to convince Borden of the "duplication," by providing a journal which suggests how Tesla created a duplicating machine and not a teleporter. Borden is never convinced, though realizes how he was conned and is hanged.

Borden's twin (who were both taking turns as "Borden" and "Fallon") goes to the warehouse and shoots Angier. Angier finally realizes the simplicity of Borden's trick. Angier considers continuing with his plan to convince Borden of the duplication (thinking about telling him a story of shooting a duplicate) but realizes he is dying and has lost, so tells Borden how his goal was always to make the audience believe in the magic and try and forget that it was only an illusion.

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