Bait, transformation, prestige. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is built on the pattern of exemplary focus.
Magician Robert Angier, aka The Great Danton, is fighting for the title of the best with another magician – Alfred Borden, better known as The Professor. Usual professional rivalry. Bait .
But one day the Great Danton is found dead backstage during a performance, and his rival, the Professor, is found guilty of death, and he is sent to execution. Transformation .
And finally, prestige . In place of the deceased Danton is his mysterious double – Lord Caldlow. In place of the executed Borden – his brother.
The denouement is the most difficult part of the film to understand. Therefore, today I will depart from my usual scheme: I will explain the meaning of the film “The Prestige” not from the beginning, but from the end. Then I will answer other frequently asked questions from the audience, and at the end of the article I will analyze the themes and motives that appear in the film.
The meaning of the film “The Prestige” lies in the denouement
“Prestige”: the meaning of the final
To understand the ending of the film “The Prestige”, it is necessary, firstly, to understand the logic of Angier, and secondly, the principle of operation of his machine. Let’s start with the car. When Angier offers Tesla money, he expects to get a device that can teleport a person. With the help of teleportation, he wants to repeat Borden’s signature number. But Tesla’s machine doesn’t work quite right: it doesn’t move the object, but creates an exact copy of it.
It is important to understand that the copy created by the machine does not simply repeat the original, it is in fact equal to the original . Remember, when Robert first sees the machine in action and asks Tesla: “Which of them [hats] are mine?”, he answers: “Everything.” Therefore, any copy of Robert himself, which he creates with the help of a machine, will have his personality, thoughts, memories. Even if the original Robert dies, the copy Robert can continue to live for him.
With the help of the machine, Angier could create a double for himself, work out the “Movement of a Person” number with him and live peacefully, reaping the fruits of his success. But his goal has long been not just to surpass Borden, but to destroy him. Therefore, Angier develops a cunning plan. He concludes an agreement with the theater for 100 performances. Angier relies on Borden’s curiosity: having learned about the success of the enemy, he will certainly come to the performance and try to find out how Angier managed to copy his number.
Angier knows that sooner or later Borden will come to see him perform.
During each performance of “The Movement of a Man”, Robert Angier exposes himself to the machine, and it creates an exact copy of him at some distance, just behind the screen at the end of the auditorium. Then the floor collapses under the original Robert, and he falls into a box filled with water, where, of course, he drowns. Robert-copy appears from behind the screen to the applause of the audience.
Nobody but Robert himself knows about this secret. His assistants are blind, and the magician does not allow engineer John Cutter to organize his crown number. Each time after the performance, blind assistants take away a box with water and the corpse of Robert the original to the building of an abandoned theater.
As we remember, Robert-copy has the personality of Robert-original and continues to live his life. But still, why would a magician kill himself every time in such a sophisticated way? The fact is that Robert does not know which of his performances will be Borden. Maybe for the second. Or maybe ninety-two. But he waits for him every time, and every time he plays this drama solely for the sake of Borden.
Robert Angier creates his own clone at every performance using a Tesla machine
Time after time, Robert kills one half of himself in the hope that the curious Borden will come to this performance. Finally, the Professor actually appears in the auditorium and goes backstage. There, he sees a gruesome scene that has already been repeated many times in anticipation of his visit: Robert is suffocating inside a box of water. It is easy to see that Borden is scared and is trying to help Robert. But this is what ruins him: John Cutter comes running to the noise and catches Borden allegedly at the crime scene. Copy Robert, seeing that Borden headed backstage, remains in his hiding place and does not come out to the audience. The crowd believes that Robert is dead, but only the original is dead, while the copy Robert triumphs and awaits Borden’s execution.
In the finale, the copy Robert appears under his real name and title – Lord Caldlow. Hints on Robert’s title appear from the very beginning: he hides his origin from Cutter; he tells Julia that his surname is too famous and the relatives do not want her to be associated with circus performances; he pays Tesla a fabulous amount of money that he would hardly have made from magic tricks.
However, Caldlow does not have time to enjoy his victory – he is hunted down and killed by one of the Borden brothers who survived. This takes place in the same abandoned theater where Robert’s blind assistants brought boxes of corpses.
It takes courage to climb into a car every night not knowing whether I’ll be the one in the box or the prestige. Do you want to know what it cost me? You saw where you went, look, look!
These words, which Robert utters, pointing with his eyes at the boxes with corpses around, confirm that he really was exposed to the machine every time, and did not send, say, a pre-created clone into it.
How could Borden forget the knot he tied the day Julia died?
Other questions about the film “The Prestige”
What knot did Borden tie?
Angier blames Borden for the death of his wife Julia, and rightly so, in my opinion. Shortly before the accident, Borden suggests tying a different knot – a double langford – instead of the one that was always used in the room. Julia supports him, Borden and Cutter object. But while preparing for the number, Julia and Borden exchange meaningful glances. It can be concluded that Borden still tied a double langford, since Julia was not opposed.
To Angier’s question: “What knot did you tie?” Borden replies, “I don’t know,” and launches into muddled explanations. How can Borden not know this? His answer seems like an absurd attempt to evade responsibility – until we find out that Alfred Borden is actually two different people. One brother tied a double langford and, of course, remembers it very well. But he did not tell the second brother what kind of knot he actually used – firstly, to protect his brother from remorse, and secondly, so that he could not admit his guilt before Robert. Therefore, the second brother honestly answers Angier: “I don’t know.”
For Sarah, the truth about her husband is worse than betrayal.
How did Sarah reveal her husband’s secret?
During the last fight with Alfred, Sarah says, “I’ll go to her [Olivia] and tell her everything. I know who you really are.” Olivia later confirms that Sarah wanted to meet her and tell her something important about her husband. But how could Sarah guess about the secret of the brothers, if they so carefully concealed it from everyone – and first of all from Sarah?
I think it’s because of Sarah’s extraordinary insight. She sincerely loved Alfred and, having lived next to him for many years, having seen dozens of his tricks, she was able to understand his way of thinking. From the very beginning, Sarah could distinguish the brother who loved her only by the intonation with which he pronounced the words “I love you.” But then Sarah did not yet understand that there were two different people in front of her.
When Alfred brought his mistress to a restaurant, Sarah could not hide the fact that he really loves this girl. But at the same time, she knew for sure that her husband loved her, Sarah. She compared the facts, imagined herself in Alfred’s place and realized what a monstrous trick he had played in front of her all his life. For Sarah, it was most painful to realize that she was only a naive spectator during this trick.
So Sara wants to meet with Olivia to warn her. She perceives the girl not as a rival, but as a sister in misfortune. And so Sarah is forced to commit suicide – the betrayal of her husband, who turned her life into a performance, is much more unbearable for her than betrayal.
Tesla warns Angier that his obsession will be his undoing.
Themes and motifs in the film “The Prestige”
“One day my ideas will destroy me,” Tesla tells Robert Angier. Each of the rival magicians is obsessed with one idea, one passion. But passion destroys the one who allows it to take over his own personality.
Borden’s passion is all new, unknown, solving mysteries. At the beginning of the film, Borden and Cutter argue about who the real magician is. According to Borden, this is a person who constantly invents new tricks that make not only the audience puzzle, but also fellow magicians.
It is Borden’s passion that causes him to feud with Angier. Out of a desire to try new things, Borden ties a double langford around Julia’s wrist, despite Cutter’s warning. The knot really turns out to be dangerous and destroys the girl.
Angier capitalizes on Borden’s thirst for knowledge as he comes up with his latest trick. He knows that a curious opponent will surely find a way to peek behind the scenes and see how the Great Danton put on his signature number. Thus, the desire to solve the mystery of Angier ruins Borden, at least one of the brothers.
Robert Angier is not obsessed with finding answers, but with fame and recognition. More than anything, he dreams of hearing the crowd applaud him. It is not so important for him who came up with the number – he himself, his rival or Nikola Tesla. In the finale, when Borden, driven to despair, gives Robert the secret of his crown number, he defiantly tears the paper to shreds. For Robert, the secret no longer matters: after all, he has already won his victory and achieved success. If Robert had read Borden’s note, it might have saved his life. But his own vanity proves fatal to him.
Each of the brothers will lose his beloved through the fault of the other
Angier and Borden have doubles in the film – Tesla and Edison. Although Edison himself remains off-screen, their feud with Tesla makes its way onto the screen. Two seemingly cooperative inventors make it their life’s goal to destroy the fruits of each other’s work. The history of their rivalry mirrors the enmity of the two magicians.
Also, in my opinion, can be considered as twins of the Borden brothers themselves. There was such an image in the literature of romanticism – a doppelganger, a gloomy double. This is a person who steals the identity of the protagonist or foreshadows his death. The double could be a shadow or even a part of the body (for example, as in Gogol’s story “The Nose”), or it could be a person who came from nowhere (as in Dostoevsky’s story, which is called “The Double”).
In the film The Prestige, the Borden brothers play the role of a sinister double in relation to each other. At least when it comes to love. One of the brothers loves Sarah, the other loves Olivia. And the one who loves Sarah is forced to silently listen to her quarrel with her second brother. Similarly, victims of doppelgangers watch helplessly as their lives are ruined by the fault of the dark double. Because of one brother, another loses Sarah forever.
Angier also has a doppelgänger (in addition to the ones he creates with Tesla’s machine). It’s out-of-work actor Ruth, whom Cutter hires as Angier’s stunt double. Ruth is also a kind of doppelganger, only not very sinister. However, he manages to acquire some power over Angier and disrupts his performance.
For Borden, life has always been a game. Angier realizes this only in the final
Life is like a game
At the beginning of the film, Borden explains to Angier that the real game takes place not on the stage, but in life. His ideal is “zealous service to art, absolute self-sacrifice.” The extreme expression of this principle is the Chinese magician Chan Ling Su, whom Borden admires. Chan Ling Su pretends to be an infirm old man, but performs a trick that requires good physical fitness.
Borden’s whole life from beginning to end is a game, the rules of which the brothers do not violate for a second. Not even the loss of loved ones, not even death can end this game.
Robert Angier understands this principle only towards the end of the film, when Tesla’s car falls into his hands. After that, his life also turns into a game and endless self-sacrifice: he kills himself on stage in order to immediately be reborn and hear the stormy applause of the crowd.