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Simplifying Christopher Nolan's "the Prestige"


Just a writer playing with your ideas with my wild perspectives.


Were you watching closely?

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird, or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige". I'd suggest you read those lines over and over till it makes some solid sense to you, and when it does, hold on to that idea because I'm going to exercise your brain a little by conflicting your idea with my perspective.

Exactly at 2:04:10, the 'little lady' recoups her father, Cutter reforms his doings and Angier finally meets his end. Christopher Nolan gives a clean ending to his suspense drama by giving a win-lose conclusion to Alfred Borden and pretends to satisfy Cutter's quote "Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back.". But is it actually that simple? If yes, then why does our gut tells us that something isn't right about what we saw after 42 seconds of our reference (2:04:10). That is because Nolan makes us believe that we have figured out the prestige and then indicates with Cutter's closing dialogue that, we didn't!

"Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it because of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled!" The whole point of the tale was that the audience never knows what the secret is. And if Nolan told us that Borden having a twin is the secret, then trust me, it isn't!

We waited for over a decade probing for the one solid theory which would satisfy all the hidden constraints, and now is the time to put a stop to it by changing the perspective. To understand the prestige of this tale we have to consider this movie a magic, and Nolan a Magician who had a secret which he would not reveal at any cost because as Borden quotes "They'll beg you and they'll flatter you for the secret, but as soon as you give it up... you'll be nothing to them."

So let's break it down once and for all, and to keep you intrigued, let's start with my claims.

CLAIM 1: Alfred Borden was not the main subject, Alfred and Fallon being twins wasn't the ultimate secret.

CLAIM 2: Tesla's machine worked.

CLAIM 3: The real Angier never drowned.

CLAIM 4: Angier survival is the ultimate secret.

Now let us simplify all four claims.

Simplifying claim 1

According to this tale, only a fool would give away his secrets. But Nolan is no fool. There were several brief moments in the movie that hints that Fallon had something more to his character. At 11 minutes 45 seconds, Bordan says "We were two young men at the start of a great career”, later we realize that by 'we' he meant Bordan and Fallon and not Bordan and Angier. We could have ruled this assumption out if we listened closely. At 01:21:53 Bordan says that "but we can't trust her(Olivia)". This line wouldn't make sense if by 'we' Bordan meant him and Angier. Also at 1:27:58, Bordan asks Fallon if he can help him with his wife. How can an Ingenieur possibly help you with your wife? But someone who lives half of your life, surely can. Before hanging herself to death, Sarah indicates that something isn't right and she knows the truth. Hints to Bordon's secret were garnished all over the screentime. If the secret was not to be revealed, why leave hints in the first place?

Simplifying claim 2

Theories emerged which claimed that Tesla's machine never worked, the person who drowns framing Bordon for murder was Root.

Tesla's machine was supposed to teleport Angier from one part of the machine to the place where the other part is. But that never happened, the machine rather generates a duplicate. This malfunction could be the only reason to say that the machine didn't work. But claiming that the machine doesn't create a duplicate either would be baseless. If the machine didn't work where did so many hats come from, what about the second cat, how did Angier perform the final act without a duplicate? If Angier drowned, who is Lord Caldlow? If the person who drowned was Root and Angier was shot, who is the person in the box at 02:04:55? Moreover, why would Angier put his faith in Root after such a petrifying experience? Even if we believe that Angier trusted Root, how did Angier know when to drown Root. There was no way for Angier to guess the day on which Bordon would go down the stage. At 01:43:50 Bordon tells us that the Blind men would move the tanker to someplace after every show. The fact that both the stagemen where blind explains why Angier didn't want Cutter at the back of the stage for this act. Angier didn't want a single soul to know about the duplicates.

Simplifying claim 3

Some say that Angier drowned himself in the very first act and the duplicate hence generated would do the next act. And this cycle repeated till Bordon got framed. To support this claim people say that Angier loved his wife and was going through a guilt trip, owing to which he similarly killed himself. They also say that Cutter's words (I knew a sailor once, got tangled in the rigging. We pulled him out, but it took him five minutes to cough. He said it was like going home.) drove Angier to do so.

At 01:01:28 we learn that not receiving the appreciation for his show bothered Angier and he wanted to be the prestige. The entire movie was about Angier looking for a way to become the prestige. There is no way he just blew his chance to be the prestige for some pain he wasn't even going through. Yes, the pain of losing his wife wasn't more than his passion for his profession. At 01:12:00 Angier very clearly says "I don't care about my wife, I care about his secrets", so the guilt trip angle does not seem to be true.

Simplifying claim 4

Time to break it all down now. The movie 'The Prestige' is the name of the magic show, Nolan is the magician, as part of The Pledge Nolan shows us a man (Angier), real, unaltered, and normal. But of course, he wasn't normal, Angier was a master showman. Now comes the turn, Nolan shows us something extraordinary, Angier performs 'The Real Transported Man', pure magic no tricks. Now we are looking for the secret, and I'm finally going to deliver it to you.

Before the show starts there are 2 Angiers, the real Angier and the clone which he makes well before the show. Why? Because he finally has a method to be in the box (the pre-cloned Angire performs the magic. Angier doesn't have to bother about the act the way he did with Root because he knows that it won't go wrong since the person performing the act is Angier himself) and also to be the show’s prestige (the real Angier shows up from the other end of the theatre as prestige in every show). There is a brief moment when there are 3 Angiers alive, it's the moment when the machine stops and the clone goes down the trap door. A new clone is created, this clone then performs in the next show, and the clone drops into the tank placed there by the blind stagehand because Angier can't let anyone know about the clone and hence kills them after every show. But why specifically this method? Because Angier thinks that drowning feels like going home (Angier learns later that drowning feels like agony) and since it himself whom he's killing, he wants it to be painless and rather peaceful. This way Angier gets to be the prestige and all he has to do is wait for Bordon to decide to go down the stage and witness the drowning and get framed for murder. Now Angier had avenged his wife's death. As usual, in the last show, a clone is generated. Now we have 2 Angiers, the real Angier obtains what was endowed to him by his rich family and becomes Lord Caldlow. The whereabouts of the recent clone, however, are unknown. Bordon shoots Angier, the subject has disappeared, similar to the bird in the cage that disappears. But making it disappear is not enough, Nolan has to bring it back, he has to bring back Angier. With the real bird dead the magician summons a clone bird as part of the prestige, similarly, to finish the last part of his magic (the prestige), Nolan has to bring back Angier, and so its the clone of Angier which finishes the prestige of the spectacular magic show and movie named, 'THE PRESTIGE'.

© 2020 Krishna


vyshnavi on November 03, 2020:

Great explanation. The best one.

Arun28 on September 13, 2020:

Nice analysis Man!

Check out my take on this wonderful film:

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