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Headscratchers: The Prestige
  • So when Borden wrote Tesla on the paper, did he mean it, or was he just sending Angier on a wild goose chase that happened to produce results?
    • He was just sending Angier on a wild goose chase that happened to produce results.
    • It's a minor thing, but I'm amazed Angier didn't skim the whole thing before reading it in depth, and notice the "ha ha, sucker!" at the end.
      • Remember the discussion of the rotating cipher, though - every page required long, tiresome interpreting. No sense going to all that effort for just a few words per page.
    • What if it was the method? What if that's where the Borden twin came from?
      • It wasn't, because Borden speaks about his "perfect trick", meaning the Transported Man, long before he had heard of Tesla, back to even the first magic show in the movie. And had Tesla already been able to duplicate then, he wouldn't have had to build another for Angier, nor be surprised that he had built a cloning machine.
  • So. Matter duplicator. Potential source of untold wonders and wealth. Its first use? Expendable Clone
    • Well in anyone else's hands it probably could have been used for something else, Angier was so obsessed with the magic and framing Borden he never bothered to consider other uses.
    • Well he does seem remarkably wealthy at the end despite blowing all his money on research for the Matter Duplicator
    • This troper does wonder why he continually duplicates and drowns himself, rather than duplicating himself once or twice, and using that for the act
      • The reason he stops using the body double is because he became too hard to manage; Imagine how hard it would have been to manage a copy of himself.
      • Much, much easier than managing a different person? You already know your duplicate wants to work with you as much as you do with him! Simply resolve "I will work with my duplicate" and then press the button. When you meet him, you're guaranteed to have no problems, because guess what, that guy already resolved to work with his duplicate too! That said, Angier panicked and killed his first duplicate, which would make it nigh-impossible to truly resolve at a gut level that he could trust a counterpart.
      • It's definitely easier than managing a "clone" from birth, or however long Borden and Freddy had been at it. I guess it just goes to show that he really is the worse magician.
      • Angier hates himself. Killing himself over and over and over again is part of a masochistic self-punishment for his wife's death near the beginning of the movie.
      • It's established earlier in the movie that Angier is less willing than or able to maintain Kayfabe than Borden. Look at the lengths Borden and brother had to go to in order to keep the charade going; there's no way Angier would have had the dedication to do that, never mind two of him. Angier's actions, to him, represent a more efficient solution.
      • Angier ran the trick at the end using the Machine each time because the entire point was to frame Borden. He had no way of knowing when Borden would end up under the stage, so he set it up that no matter when he did it, he would get caught. All the newly created Angier clone would have to do is listen for screams under the stage, and if he hears them, he doesn't make his grand appearance. That way, the frame up is more of a sure thing.
      • There are several overlapping reasons for using the machine the way Angier does. For one, if I understand the movie correctly, the machine is both teleports and clones its subject, each of which has the potential to fulfill one of Angier's goals: the teleportation means that he can preform the greatest magic trick ever seen on stage and beat Borden as an illusionist, and because the machine creates a clone each time, at some point Borden will be found with the dead body (because precisely 100 performances have been booked, Borden has to investigate within a short time frame), thus fulfilling Angier's desire for revenge on Borden for his wife's death. On another level, the reasons are prisoners' dilemma type logic: both the clone and the original think they are the original, know that the other thinks it's the original, and know that because the other has considered killing the other to cover up loose ends, it's in their best interests to figure out how to kill the other first. In order to prevent a scenario like this, Angier decides to have one of the copies die each time. Finally, the reasons are psychological: as the scenes with Root show, Angier feels that he has never received the acclaim from an audience he deserves, and doesn't want a "double", be it Root or a clone, to take the applause away from him. At the same time, Angier is conscious of how much his obsession has hurt others, and by drowning each time the same way his wife did, he can punish himself for his crimes an infinite number of times.
  • "Angier, we need to find somebody who looks exactly like you! The whole plot hinges on it!" *looks through a few pubs for an evening, finds a man who looks more like him than any two non-twin people have ever looked like each other* "All right, no big deal. Moving on...."
    • looks through a few pubs for an evening
    • We don't know how many days or weeks it took.
    • Not really. And even after Cutter makes him up, he's not a dead ringer for Angier. Borden, and even we in the audience, can tell them apart fairly easily.
  • Why did Angier keep a whole collection of his drowned clones?
    • Eh, he doesn't really have anywhere else to put them. Best to hide 'em someplace.
      • But that would mean he had to use a new tank every night! Wouldn't it be a lot less trouble to take them out and store them someplace else?
      • We're not talking about mere objects, we're talking about corpses here. Considering they begin to rot and stink pretty quickly, they're not the kind of thing you can just leave lying about without attracting attention. Throw in the facts that being found with one corpse can get you hung (as evidenced with Borden), they were the secret to his trick and they all looked exactly like him, and you can begin to see why he wasn't too keen on fishing them out and storing them. Hell, considering how difficult it is to haul or bury a body without a disability (never mind the difficulty of removing a 200lb piece of meat out of a 10ft tank unassisted), the problem of having to deal with a corpse that looks exactly like you, and that pickling bodies keeps them fresh, easily moved and well hidden, it's really worth the cost of buying a new tank every evening instead.
      • And apart from maybe size, there's not much preventing him from using the machine to duplicate the tank, too. Which is probably cheaper than buying a new one
  • I'm not able to keep straight the characters' names, so I'm using the actors' here. When Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale were working for Ricky Jay why had Bale pre-arranged to have always lived with his twin brother as one person, just in case he later on needed to do one particular magic trick when he went solo? And if this wasn't so, was the one whose negligence resulted in Jackman's wife's death the one who ended up going to the gallows, or not?
    • Yes, he always knew he was going to make the trick, he even says so near the beginning of the movie, he says he has an amazing act that the world isn't ready for
  • I love this movie, but Angier says regarding his Transported Man act something to the effect of, "I never knew if I would be the one transported or the one falling through the trap door to his death." Nonsense, I say. The first time he tested the machine, the Angier in the machine survived, shooting his clone. Therefore, according to the path his consciousness takes, the "real" Angier is the one in the machine. So what does he do? Sets it up so this "real" Angier is killed every night. Would you have the courage to do that? After a few dozen performances, it would seem to him that he was the man in the machine after the first transportation, then was teleported in every subsequent one. Of course, Tesla had already established that both copies share the identity ("They are all your hat, Mr. Angier."), but it still really bugs me that for at least the first performance, he was effectively setting up his own suicide.
    • I had the impression that he was punishing himself for his wife's death. The way he experimented with the pain of drowning in his washbasin seemed to be a setup for his eventual planned death(s). In other words, he felt guilty and wanted to experience what his wife had experienced. This works out better when you consider that Frederick Borden—indirectly responsible for Alfred's wife's hanging suicide—met the same fate that she did.
    • How could you tell the man in the machine is the real Angier? If they're exact duplicates then it can be assumed they both have Angier's thoughts and memories. So even the duplicate would have gone for the gun, seeing as he probably decided beforehand that he'd just murder the clone. He was potentially setting up his own suicide the second he stepped into the machine. Which I guess doesn't make things any better.
      • You are correct that each Angier is as as real as the other, but my point still stands. Only one of these Angiers lived to set up the show and the one who survived was setting up his own suicide. Try putting yourself in his shoes and maybe you'll see what I'm getting at. "Let me boot up Tesla's machine for the first time... Aha! I now see how the machine functions! I remain inside the machine while a duplicate of me is created some distance away. I know this because I'm alive and I shot the duplicate. Now, how am I going to set up this trick? I know! I shall put a trap door under the machine that drops the Angier in the machine into a water tank, where he will drown in agony. But I just verified that my consciousness stays with the man in the machine, so I'm setting up my own death." Or let me put this yet another way. Suppose Tesla informs Angier that one of the two copies that result from the machine is, in fact, real. One of them has a soul (or consciousness or what have you) and the other is just a collection of unthinking atoms in the void. Tesla does not know which copy is which. Angier steps into the machine and, from his perspective, he remains in the machine to shoot his soulless doppelganger. He says to himself, "Okay, now I know which one is real. My consciousness stays in the machine, the teleported Angier is just a soulless copy." Would it then make sense for Angier to set it up so that the man in the machine (the one with a soul) is killed on the first night of the act? And before you interject to say, "But Tesla told him they're both equivalent," Angier doesn't have evidence of this after testing the machine the first time. All he knows is that from his perspective, he stayed in the machine and the second Angier was another man.
      • That's the point: He was willing to commit suicide over and over again in order to receive the adulation of the audience. It was only later that he was willing to rationalise this bizarre act of self-murder by saying "no-one cares about the man in the box. Himself included
      • While that makes Angier seem mega-emo, I'll concede that it's the best explanation. Now that's devotion!
    • Where in the movie do they say that the machine creates soulless copies? I know that's how it sort of worked in the book, but the movie doesn't bring it up. Angier doesn't know whether he'll be the man coming out or the man drowning because there is absolutely no difference. For all he knew, the machine teleported the original some distance away and left a copy in its place, which would mean the original Angier survived to the very end of the movie after murdering himself nearly a hundred times. Remember that the teleported Angier would have no difference in perspective from the not-teleported Angier.
      • I never suggested that the machine truly makes soulless copies, I was just using that point as a hypothetical to illuminate my argument. Put yourself in Lord Caldlow's shoes (at the end of the film). Lord Caldlow's memories would indicate that when he first turned on the machine, he stayed in the machine and shot his clone. Every subsequent time (during the performances, dozens of nights) he was the transported man. From his own perspective, after the first time he used the machine, he stayed put, but at his first performance, he kills the man on the stage. Either he, as the man on stage, is ensuring his own death every night, or (perhaps equivalently), he is duplicating his consciousness, dying dozens of deaths with only one surviving Angier. Just because the surviving Angier doesn't perceive them firsthand doesn't mean they aren't his deaths.
      • Regardless of which Angier was "real," the Angier consciousness that lives believes the machine is teleporting himself and leaving a copy, which is why he tanks the machineAngier. Why he thinks that is the real question. Perhaps it's because he is under the assumption that Tesla built him a teleporting machine since that's what he asked for. While he knew the alpha version of the machine made clones, he probably assumed that bug was worked out, but just in case, prior to his first test he leaves the gun nearby on the off chance that something goes wrong. Once he creates a clone, both think they're the real Angier. teleportedAngier shouts out that he's the real one because he thinks as much. machineAngier shoots because it's clear one is going to die, however this interaction instills enough doubt to make him believe he's the clone. Upon first performing the trick and drowning himself, the newly created teleportedAngier retains the consciousness and cements the idea that he's teleporting himself. After so many performances, though, he realizes he can never be sure, but at that point he's too afraid to try anything different, which is why he says he doesn't know if he'll be teleported or end up in the box.
    • Who said he just test one time before making the drowning plan? It's showed one time on screen, but he can had made a few more tests, such as creating a copy in a cage and interviewing the copy to know what memories he has and how he feels after the copying.
    • Consider this: the first time Angier used the machine he didn't know which one was the original and which one was the copy. That's where the doubt comes from. Did the clone kill the real Angier or did the real Angier kill the clone? Was he the man in the box(machine) or the man standing some feet away? In the end it doesn't matter, because the original Angier died, he either was shot by the clone that first time he tried the machine, or he killed himself when he implemented the trick with the box and drowned himself. In the end the real Angier was no more.
      • It's more than that. If the duplicates are in fact perfect copies containing the thoughts and memories of the originals, then it doesn't even matter which one was killed each time. The original body of Angier was indeed killed either by being shot or being drowned, but this is irrelevant to the continued existence of Angier the person, regardless of how many times he died. If the consciousness is all that matters when defining one's identity then in essence, and I know this sounds contradictory, despite the dozens of times an Angier died in that tank he didn't really die until that final, fatal, gunshot. It's trivial which one was the "real" Angier, because if you ask whether it was the man in the box or the prestige, the closest answer is "yes". It's just another bit of misdirection, in the end.
  • Why didn't they just unlock the tank while Julia was drowning? Compared to the axe, it's faster, more reliable, and still doesn't spoil the trick's secret.
    • Would it be faster than the axe? Fulbing around with a key, especially when you're panicking, can take a surprisingly long time.
      • Yeah, but it was a trick lock anyway. You could always pull out any old key (or, since these are skilled magicians we're talking about, mime it with your empty hands) and pop the lock without the audience noticing the difference.
    • The tank was 10 feet tall, and Julia was drowning and had her hands and feet tied. How would unlocking the tank have helped? Julia couldn't have helped herself out by that point, and they would have needed to drag over a ladder for anyone else to do anything about it, assuming anyone was physically fit enough to even with a ladder.
    • If none of them were capable of jumping and pulling themselves up and getting on top of the tank, they are in some sad shape.
  • Why did Jackman kill his first clone anyway? I assume that the clone would understand this as the plan and would not have to kill each other. He could have just done the trick with a normal Tesla coil with the same effect.
    • How many people would be willing to live with the knowledge of the existence of a clone, <exactly> like you, that (and this is crucial) thinks that it <is> you, that would most likely want to take over your life? It's bad enough for twins to be living the life of one and half men, much less two (or three or more) identical people, who'd have to be <exceptionally> strong willed to accept such a fate. I certainly wouldn't.
      • Some people would, some people would not. It may depend on how much you enjoy science fiction :) Remember, the duplicate is exactly like you initially, so if you want to work with your duplicate, he'll want to work with you! But if you go in with an attitude of trying to "control" your duplicate or be the "real you", well, he'll want to control you too and take over "your" life.
    • Angier's mistake was twofold: First, he didn't think through his plan before creating his duplicate, which means that he could never be sure that the duplicate would believe in that plan since it'd be developed after the point of divergence; he didn't resolve (as Borden did) that the two would work together as equals, which would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Second, his reaction to the duplicate was shooting him in panic. A calmer person might have reacted a different way, but perhaps Angier is a fearful, violent man. After that, there's very little he could've done - he knows in his heart that he has killed his double and could do it again, and any double would know this too, so they would never be able to trust each other.
  • When the water tank trick went wrong, why didn't Cutter stop the trick in time to save Angier's wife? He seemed to be timing it to gauge whether he should intervene, so why didn't he intervene before she drowned? If his timing wasn't based on how long she could go without drowning, what WAS it based on?
    • My guess is that it was how long it normally took her to get out of there. If she took too long, then that means something had gone wrong.
    • An even better solution: Why didn't the curtain merely hide the audience from seeing her use her escape trick and let Cutter (from backstage) watch her for some kind of sign that she can't get free?
      • Because then the trick would have been ruined. In order for Cutter to see her, the tank would have to not be entirely enclosed, which would make the audience doubt her ability to escape on her own.
  • Several sequences in the film depend on either Angier or Borden picking the other out of the audience as a volunteer. What are the odds that even the most enthusiastic volunteer will get picked?
    • Pretty good, when the volunteer is a magician and knows how to force a choice. Besides, we don't see every show they do, just the ones where one or the other gets picked; those are the only ones that matter to the story. The one with Borden messing up Angier's bird trick does seem to be on the night Angier's new show debuts. But other than that, the shows could be anywhere in the relevant magician's run, and there's no need for us to see every time the other one tries to get picked and fails.
    • In the bullet-catching trick, Angier essentially volunteered himself (the rest of the audience was too busy laughing at Borden). For the transported man trick, remember that Angier was trying to frame Borden for his own murder, so he would have been looking for Borden in the audience. Only the bird trick relied on pure coincidence.
      • Actually if you watch the volunteer selection during the bird trick, Angier says that he'll need two volunteers. Olivia points to two people, but three people stand up - the woman and two men. Borden wasn't chosen as a volunteer but he stood up anyway and started up on stage, figuring the other audience member would just back off.
    • This troper believes that although the movie shows that the rival was that coincidentally chosen for every new trick to ruin it, it could actually have been the 3rd or 4th or some whimsical n-th attempt of the trick. After all, we are shown segements and not a linear portrayal of the chronology of the movie. They could have very well been attempting to get chosen/pick for over 20 times for all we know.
  • Once Tesla had successfully built the cloning device for Angier, how hard could it have been to modify it into being an actual cloning machine? That is, after creating the clone, the machine immediately zaps the man in the machine to destroy him. It would have then worked in the manner that Angier requested, would have made things much easier for Angier given his purposes, and I'm sure a scientist who had the ability to make a cloning device could manage something that destroyed the original. Tesla himself says that nothing is impossible, and if he can create matter (what the machine does is even more complicated than that), he can certainly destroy it. Or are we lead to believe Tesla probably had this planned, but then got attacked by Edison and had to give what he had to Angier before bolting?
    • Tesla probably realized that the machine was making actual copies, not just soulless bodies. At this point, to implement some sort of copy-remover would be knowingly murdering a person. Further, there's no way for Tesla to really know which copy is "real," so killing one may lead to killing Angier the moment he steps into the machine. While this isn't the machine Angier requested, he did advise Angier to destroy it probably because he just didn't want to/didn't have time to deal with the ethics of the machine.
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