Fridge Brilliance: Christian Bale's performance becomes a lot more impressive when you realize that he's really playing two different people. It takes some close watching, but with a second watching, you can detect the subtle distinctions between the Borden twins in the performance—a very impressive amount of work for something the audience is not supposed to notice. Another layer of fridge brilliance comes when you realize that there's another art form that involves the artist doing a lot of work the audience isn't supposed to notice—Magic.
It also makes the scene where Borden is talking to Fallon about Sarah even more heart-wrenching. On a first watch-through, you just think he's asking a friend to help him out with his marital troubles. On the second watch-through, you know it's one brother begging another to help him keep his beloved wife, especially when said brother is a large part of the reason why said wife is so unhappy.
When Olivia addresses Borden, he asks her to call him Alfred, and soon she starts calling him Freddy. When you realize that even Borden's wife Sarah only calls him Alfred, you'll realize the second time by that the twin gambit had already been revealed then and there. As the movie said, it's only realized in hindsight because the viewer didn't look closely enough to discover the secret, and didn't want to know it. Those lines are actually Breaking the Fourth Wall. Subtle.
"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."
When Borden said that he couldn't remember whether he used the new knot, was he lying, flustered, or not the right Borden?
Borden's journal entry regarding his thoughts on the incident had him saying that he "struggled with himself", two halves insisting that they tied two different knots. Which implied that it was a case of miscommunication between the twins. You can also see hints of this in performance itself, as the twin that causes the tragedy doesn't drop the knot while he ties it, unlike the twin in the first performance. The additional brilliance of that line comes from the fact that both twins are in fact sharing a single life and identity.
It was the wrong Borden. There's even more Fridge Brilliance here. At the beginning Cutter tells Borden "On some days you just don't get it do you?". You compare that to what Sarah tells Borden about him loving her on some days and not on others - if you just watched the movie and realized it, you'll be hit by a bomb. The night when Julia drowns, it's the second twin on stage and it is easy to see that he ties the double Langford. He and Julia also nod to each other as the knot is changed. And the little doubt in Julia's eyes just before that nod as she is hoisted was so subtle, but it says it all. Angier goes after Borden and Borden insists that he doesn't know, because it was his twin that tied the knot (although it could at the time be easily argued that Borden was traumatized by what had happened, and his memory got fuzzy). Alfred insists he tied the slip knot, but the other twin suspects that it was the Langfort Double.
Does that mean that Angier ultimately DID get his revenge on the twin who had killed his wife? Or was the twin that he sent to the gallows actually the INNOCENT one?
As far as I could tell, the one who hung was the second twin, the same one that tied the bad knot and killed Angier's wife. When he's in prison and the first twin (in disguise) comes to visit him, he says something like "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for so many things. For Sarah. I didn't mean to hurt her." which seems to indicate he wasn't the one who was in love with her. So yes, Angier did get revenge.
The acting also makes it clear that one of the twins is a greater risk taker than the other.
Several little details also become apparent in the second viewing, when you know Borden and Fallon act as a form of bait and switch. Ever wonder how Borden suddenly appears in Sarah's apartment asking for tea?The twin broke in and waited for her to come home.Wonder why Borden only loves his mistress or family on specific days?Because it's not the same man each day.How come Fallon comforts Borden's daughter when he's fighting with the woman he normally loves?Because he's really her father, and it's her uncle arguing with her mother.
An additional example: One scene has Borden promising to take his daughter to the zoo after he runs some errands, but when he sees Fallon, he asks him to take her instead as he's busy. Whilst it seems cold hearted initially, it becomes apparent that, since a man who at least resembles Borden took her, he did still technically keep his promise.
Or possibly, at that moment, the twin being Fallon was her actual father and the twin being Borden thought it'd be best if he took her.
It wasn't. Fallon was the uncle, "Freddy," and Borden was the real father. You can tell because Borden asks Fallon for help in reminding Sarah that he (Borden) really does love her. If Borden was Freddy instead of Alfred, there would have been absolutely no reason for Borden to say that. Alfred would tell Sarah that he loved her anyway, he wouldn't need his brother to tell him to do that.
Just before the twin is executed, his last words are "Abracadabra". We realize what he meant when the real Borden comes in and shoots Angier before revealing in the Tomato Surprise.
The whole plot of the movie was based on the very same trick at the center of the plot, only not on stage. It was done with twins after all.
There's a slightly sinister explanation as to why both Bordens love Jess. Although it's probably due to her being a little girl and all, you could argue that they don't know who her father really is!
So, basically, both Freddy and Borden would often have to watch while the other brother romanced the woman they were in love with, until finally both women were driven away (or to suicide), PLUS they probably confused and traumatized the shit out of the daughter, PLUS one brother cut two of his fingers off, PLUS one brother DIED... all to keep up the illusion that they were one person, for the sake of A MAGIC ACT?!?!? Jesus, talk about Dyeing for Your Art.
Fridge Horror: In a fashion reminiscent of Quantum Suicide, each time Angier uses Tesla's device he appears to teleport across the room while a clone is dropped into a water tank to be trapped and drowned. Equally possible though is that the 'original' Angier in each case is the one to drown, with a clone appearing elsewhere. But as far as the copy is concerned, he is the real Angier, and he has survived the trick. The end result is that not only does the 'template' Angier die every time he performs the trick, but that it comes as a surprise. Every. Single. Time.
Worse still, each time the trick is performed, the copy believes he has survived yet again. By the end of the film, that particular iteration of Angier believes he has survived the trick potentially dozens of times; what reason does he have to believe that this time will be any different? Except it is. It always is.
Whether the above is true or not, by the end of the film the original Angier has been dead (by his own hand, no less) for quite some time, either shot by his clone, or drowned in his box
Either that or there is no Angier/corpse that is more or less "original" and the entire debate is an exercise in arbitrary definitions.
This concept is discussed in the film when Angier asks Tesla which hat is the original and Tesla states "they all are."
Fridge Logic: If the only bar to pulling off the Transported Man with body doubles is finding a good enough doppelganger, Angier only really needed to clone himself once, keep the clone alive and carry on as a Bordenesque double-act. On the other hand, he'd then have the Cloning Blues to deal with.
It's halfway between Logic and Brilliance. Yes, he absolutely could have. However, by that point he's got tunnel vision something fierce: remember, back when he correctly guessed the trick was done using a body double, Borden mocked him mercilessly for it. Thus, in his mind the "correct" way to do the Transported Man doesn't involve that particular schtick. And so he flies right past the obvious solution to set up his own, needlessly complex and cruel version.
The audience is already presented with the reason why two live Angiers wouldn't work: Angier's drunken double Root earlier in the movie stealing the applause and blackmailing him. The Angier in the box would always be jealous of the the Angier who was the Prestige. Killing the Angier in the box is the best way Angier knows how to deal with the problem.
It also shows a key difference between Angier and Borden. Borden is willing to sacrifice his own life for magic; Angier will sacrifice others.
Although, it's also revealing of Angier's motivation as a performer: He would rather die than be the one in the box
Actually, his motivation is the audience, receiving the applause.
Or, more simply, Angier killed the clones deliberately out of the hope that eventually Borden would find himself at the scene of the crime and be framed. Angier, after all, deliberately sought enough publicity that Borden would find the taunt irresistible. The dead Angier is not just an inconvenience to be disposed, but in fact part of the show.
The bird trick. Angier was simply performing the old disappearing bird trick again in the end, but with himself instead of birds.
The bird trick could actually apply to both of the magicians, although Borden does it in real life, not on stage. When he is hanged: one twin "vanishes" and the other is "brought back" After all, the little boy does say "but what happened to his brother" not "his clone" when he asks Borden about the trick.
Fridge Horror: Angier chose to drown his clones (rather than bury them alive or behead them or whatever) because Cutter had told him that drowning was peaceful and painless(Cutter probably made this up on the spot when he related the story at Julia's funeral in an attempt to make Angier feel a little better; that is, "She didn't suffer."). When Cutter tells him the truth, Angier gets an even sicker look on his face when he realizes that he's inflicted immeasurable agony on "himself" countless times.
Alfred Borden, Robert Angier. Cutter, Alley, Danton, Alfred Borden, Robert Angier. (Because there are two of each.) Put 'em together and what do you get...? ABRA CADABRA
Fridge Horror: That the Borden twins were essentially sharing the same life, alternating between being the same person to the point that they would mutilate themselves to maintain the deception... then you start to wonder which Borden was really the biological father of Sarah's daughter, and you're left to wonder if the Borden who survived was the real biological father or if it was the uncle, in which case the Borden who truly loved Sarah may not have even been the biological father of the girl he called his daughter. Yes, it just gets more disturbing from there.
Fridge Logic / Fridge Brilliance: Relates to Moral Event Horizon in YMMV. Lord Cauldlow is definitely dead before Borden kills him at the end. The original one, anyway. How do we know this? The first time Cauldlow uses the machine, he leaves a revolver right next to where he stands as he turns the machine on. The man who shoots the double of Cauldlow is standing in this spot when he picks up the gun and fires at the double, who is 40 feet away. Either Cauldlow was transported away, in which case he was the one to be shot, or he stayed where he was, in which case the clone was shot. In either case, the way the trick works on stage is that the man who is standing in the machine at the completion of the trick is dropped into the tank of water and drowns. So, either Cauldlow was transported the first time he ever used the machine and was shot by his clone, or the clone is the one transported to safety, and the "real" Cauldlow died the first time he used the trick onstage.