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Film / The Prestige

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"Are you watching closely?"

The Prestige is a 2006 film from Warner Bros. and Touchstone Pictures, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. It is based on an award-winning book of the same name by Christopher Priest.

The story follows an escalating rivalry between two late 19th-century magicians, Alfred Borden (Bale) and Robert Angier (Jackman). They started their careers as "voluntaries" to another stage magician until Angier's wife died during a performance, possibly because Borden may have tied a stronger rope knot than necessary (with the wife's permission). The rivalry extends into the magician scene as the two compete to see who is the best at their craft while sabotaging each other's acts.

Using an Anachronic Order, the movie starts with the conclusion of the conflict: Angier drowns during a performance and Borden is incarcerated for murder. Then, through the framing device of the two men reading one another's journals, the movie goes back and forth throughout the story and reveals the secrets behind both men and how lives were destroyed by their obsession.

Interestingly, The Prestige cannot really be said to have a central protagonist. Both sides are portrayed neutrally without either being favored by the film's point of view. This gives a different slant on a story instead of just the normal protagonist-versus-antagonist story. Instead we get a story about the conflict between two obsessed, flawed men.

Also, this film has Nikola Tesla played by David Bowie.

Now has a character sheet in need of expansion.

This film is built almost entirely out of unexpected twists. You will learn them if you read any further.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Borden is responsible for the death of Angier's wife by tying the wrong knot for her "water tank escape" trick.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The novel has a Framing Device set in the then-present day in which Angier's great-granddaughter and Borden's great-grandson meet and explore the connection between their own childhoods by reading their ancestors' diaries; this was dropped for the film.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: "Returner" by Gackt was used as the theme song in the Japanese version.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Angier and the audience have no way of knowing which of the doubles from Tesla's machine has the original person's consciousness. They're both exactly the same, so they both feel that they are the original. What's more, it's difficult to say whether it even matters.
    • It's not clear if Sarah had figured out the whole truth or just the general idea.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis:
    • Alfred Borden is specifically sent by Cutter to observe another magician to uncover his secrets, and one of the ways he's Angier's Always Someone Better is because of his ability to observe and discern the method behind most of the tricks that occur, including Angier's original transportation trick.
    • Later on, Borden is seen getting angry at someone for failing to uncover the last version of Angier's trick. That someone is the other Alfred, since they're twins, with the implication being that this brother, who also refuses to carry on the feud to its fatal conclusion, is the brains behind their operation.
  • Badass Boast: Root has his moment when he displays himself as competent to perform as a double.
    Root: Yes, you'd drink, too, if you knew the world half as well as I do. Did you think you were unique, Mr. Angier? I've been Caesar, I've played Faust. How difficult could it possibly be to play the Great Danton?
  • Beta Couple: In a very unusual version of this trope, Tesla/Edison for Borden/Angier. Both couples are in the same lines of work, both are fiercely competitive and at the very tops of their fields.
    • In a second, actually romantic but equally unusual example that's hard to realize until the end of the film the second twin and Olivia.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Have fun trying to decide who's gray as both main characters resort to increasingly questionable tactics through the course of their rivalry.
  • Book Ends: Michael Caine showing the bird trick to the little girl in both the beginning and the end. Interestingly, it's a bit creepier at the end because you know how it's done.
  • Bullet Catch: One of Borden's starting tricks is faking this by using a fake ramrod to remove the bullet before it is fired. The act gets butchered by Angier who deliberately uses a real bullet to blow two of Borden's fingers off. That someone could do that easily is mentioned early on as to why most magicians don't do the bullet catch trick.
  • Byronic Hero: The magicians. And the twin that is Jess's father is the only one to be cast in a better light than the other two. The other twin is a paranoid jerkass that drives his brother's love to suicide. Angier, on the other hand, is a Mad Artist so obsessed with revenge that he's willing to clone and drown himself dozens of times just to upstage Borden.
  • Chirping Crickets: When Borden performs "The Transported Man" for the first time, there is almost no reaction in the crowd. Cutter, who was among the audience, explains to Angier that the trick was too quick for the audience to process.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Tesla's machine. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from stage magic.
  • Cloning Blues: Angier's clone is a perfect replica in every part from clothes to memories, created instantaneously. Of course he thinks he's the original, all the way until the next performance when he clones and drowns himself.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: The machine Tesla makes for Angier has an amazing variety of potential uses. Even just as a magician, it could be the basis for a variety of tricks. Angier is so obsessed with his rivalry with Borden, he only uses it for one specific trick to upstage Borden and frame Borden for murder
  • Cycle of Revenge: A vicious one, at that. Angier's wife died from an accident ambiguously caused by Borden, and Borden's refusal of explanation made Angier obsessed with beating Borden; the cycle of revenge became intertwined with their cycle of rivalry until both sides lose from their obsession.
  • Darker and Edgier: Both Angier and Borden were considerably more sympathetic in the book.
  • Destructive Teleportation: Angier ensures that his magical teleportation doesn't create multiple versions of himself by drowning the original after the copying is done.
  • Doing It for the Art:
    • In-Universe, Angier is after the Transported Man trick simply because it'll make a great show, while Borden wants to try and push the limits of the art of magic. Arguably, the whole movie could be seen as a debate on the nature of art in general. However, over the course of the film they become more and more like each other, their obsessions causing mild cases of Motive Decay for both of them.
    • Also present in the book where Borden's disgust at Angier is fueled by Angier being paid for spiritism sessions. Borden hates that Angier pretends to have supernatural skills because it's disingenuous but also because it undermines the actual skills needed for the illusions.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The "prestige" is the third part of the magic act, and both Angier and Borden want the prestige of being a famous magician.
  • Drowning Pit:
    • Part of Cutter's escape artist trick with Julia as the drowning Houdini. She dies in the tank due to an accident.
    • Angier also uses the tank for his "The Real Transported Man" trick. Numerous of his clones die in there.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Very much so. You will watch the movie a second time to see the clues you overlooked the first time around.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When Borden (the jerkassy one that loves Olivia) sees Angier drowning in the box, his first reaction is to break the glass and yell at Angier to hang on.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Part of the reason why Angier never figures out Borden's secret is that his own ego is too big for him to consider that Borden would be willing to share equal credit for his career with his brother. He would rather clone and drown himself night after night than let a double like Root receive the crowd's adoration at the end of the show in his place and assumes that Borden would have the same attitude.
  • Evil Will Fail: The more absorbed the dueling magicians become in their vengeance-fueled-rivalry, the more their lives fall apart until finally Angier's ingénieur abandons and betrays him when he crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Exact Words:
    • Quite often, especially when Borden is telling Olivia that a part of him loves his wife, but a part of him love her.
    • In the novel, Borden's diary begins with the entry, "I was born in the year 1901. My name, my real name, is Alfred Borden. The story of my life is the secret by which I have lived my life. They are described in the narrative for the first and the last time. This is the only copy." A few pages later, he describes the process of a magician showing he has nothing up his sleeves before a trick, and states that, "Already without once having written a falsehood, I have started the deception that is my life. The lie is contained in these words, even in the very first of them. It is the fabric of everything that follows yet nowhere will it be apparent. I have misdirected you with the talk of truth, objective records and motives. Just as it is when I show my hands to be empty I have omitted the significant information, and now you are looking in the wrong place." And he really does mean the first words: "I was" instead of "we were".
  • Expendable Clone: Angier constantly clones himself and kills one of them in order to perform a magic trick night after night. However, he never knows whether the trick kills the clone, or if he kills himself and the clone carries on.
  • Face/Heel Double-Turn: Angier starts out with the audience's sympathy after his wife dies and Borden just seems to be a Jerkass. But as the film goes on we start to see Borden become the sympathetic one as Angier slips even further into revenge.
  • Fingore: Borden jamming Angier's harmless birdcage trick, causing a poor volunteer's hand to get crushed, then Borden losing two fingers, and subsequently his twin brother.
  • Flashback B-Plot: A Nolan trademark. The first few scenes of the movie are located at the last 25% and the very end of the story, and the movie then jumps back and forth between the first half and the second half of the story (using Tesla's lab as a mid-point), and then ends the story with new reveals.
  • Flashback-Montage Realization: When Borden and Angier explain their tricks to each other at the end, previous clips are shown along with new footage, explaining how they did them and showing the personal sacrifices they had to make.
  • Foreshadowing: Both major twists at the end of the film are foreshadowed pretty subtly.
    • Starting with Borden immediately understanding the fishbowl trick, and the elaborate lie behind it.
    • Borden saying: "He came in to demand an answer and I told him the truth. That I have fought with myself over that night, one half of me swearing blind that I tied a simple slipknot, the other half convinced that I tied the Langford double. I can never know for sure." He really did argue with "himself".
    • And the pairs of birds of whom one is killed every time the trick is performed. "Today you've been the lucky one."
    • And Sarah's nephew, when he sees Borden perform the bird trick, cries even when Borden shows him a bird that's alive, asking Borden, "Where's his brother?"
    • Sarah telling Borden, "Some days, you love magic more than me."
    • Borden telling Olivia that part of him loved Sarah but the other part didn't.
    • Borden forgetting that he promised to take his daughter to the zoo (it was actually his twin).
    • Sarah noting that Borden's bandaged hand is bleeding more than it should be (it's his twin, who cut off his own fingers to replicate Borden's injury).
    • Angier hypothesizes that Chung Ling Soo is actually a young man acting as an old man, and is so dedicated to maintaining his act that he acts like an old man even when off stage and in public. This is very strongly related to Borden's secret.
    • When Sarah reveals that she's pregnant, Borden excitedly says that they should have told Fallon. This Borden is the brother, so "Fallon" is Jess's actual father.
    • Angier's double, Root, is an Englishman playing an American. Not only does the use of doubles (in which one eventually gets hurt) foreshadow the secret of the real Transported Man, but Angier himself is actually an Englishman pretending to be an American.
      • Not only that but the night the "New Transported Man" went bad, Root talked to Borden in a pub, where he told Root about how he did a similar trick by using a double.
    • Olivia tells Angier that The Transported Man is accomplished by using a double because she found lots of disguise supplies, but that's not the real reason those supplies are important.
    • Very early in the film, Borden states that he can do an astonishing trick, and that nobody else can do it. Revealing the reason why nobody else can do it would be a major spoiler.
    • Angier experimenting with the pain of drowning in his washbasin. He later comes to drown himself every night in order to do his Transported Man trick and dispose of the bodies.
    • Angier discusses with his wife at the start how he changed his name so his career in magic wouldn't embarrass his family. This hints that he is from a powerful and wealthy family. In the end he's revealed to be Lord Caldlow.
    • Sarah declaring, "I know what you really are, Alfred."
    • Not all foreshadowing is foreshadowing the final twist. An example of one that isn't would be early on, a character analyzing the tricks behind the bullet catch trick says the following things: "I mean, someone could stick a button in there! Or, God forbid, a bullet!" And then someone got deliberately shot when doing the bullet catch trick this way.
    • Cutter repeatedly tells Angier that there's only one way for Borden to do The Transported Man. He's right, but Angier refuses to believe it.
    • Olivia says that Sarah wanted to tell her something, but Olivia did not muster the courage. Sarah wanted to tell Olivia the truth about Borden.
    • Borden's distress and near-breakdown when Angier kidnaps Fallon and buries him alive hints that Fallon isn't just an assistant.
  • Genre Shift: While the central story remains a thriller centered around two stage magicians with a bitter rivalry, the setting starts out as a Victorian Period Piece until we see Nikola Tesla's cloning machine, and it becomes Steampunk science fiction.
  • The Ghost: Thomas Edison is never seen onscreen, but his rivalry with Tesla helps move the plot. Especially after he sends his hired goons to burn down Tesla's Colorado lab, but too late to stop him completing the machine for Angier.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Angier to Olivia. One of the first obvious signs that the two are willing to go to extreme lengths to try and defeat each other.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Thomas Edison is hinted to be a ruthless, violent man who crushes his foes by sending Faceless Goons to burn down their labs and run them out of town. Even way up in the mountains, Tesla couldn't escape his wrath. In real life, Edison did order a disinformation campaign against AC which involved killing animals and lobbying.
  • How We Got Here: Ignoring the title card, the first actual story-important scenes show Cutter performing a magic trick for a girl, and Angier's final magic trick, with Borden finding Angier drowning, all accompanied by Cutter's Opening Narration. Both events take place near the end of the story and are explained and explored as the film moves along.
  • Identifying the Body: After Angier drowned in the tank, there is a scene at the morgue where Cutter identifies the body.
  • Ignored Expert:
    • At the beginning of the film, Cutter keeps telling Borden that the Langford Double knot can't be used in an underwater escape, because if the rope swells, Julia won't be able to slip it while she's in the tank. Julia is confident that she can, so she okays Borden using the knot. Then they both find out that Cutter was right.
    • Cutter was also right about the Transportation trick using a body double. If either of the magicians had listened to him, there would be no film.
    • Cutter also early on is correct about the bullet catch trick being too risky due to a volunteer from the audience easily capable of putting in a button or even a real bullet to make it go horribly wrong. Lo behold Angier in disguise putting in a real bullet and shoots off two of Borden's fingers to avenge Julia.
    • Sarah can always tell when Borden loves her more than magic. If Olivia or others had listened to Sarah they would have recognized that Borden is really two people.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Piper Perabo's character, Julia, who drowns during a stage performance, setting Angier, and also Cutter initially against Borden.
  • In Medias Res: The movie's title card shows a pile of identical top hats, which is a later scene in the film. The scene takes place in the middle of the story, where Angier discovers that Tesla's machine can clone objects, and those are his hats that were cloned multiple times into a small pile.
  • Insufferable Genius: Borden's a fantastic magician, he's just a terrible performer (though he is at least capable of improving when his mistakes are pointed out to him). In the novel, it's the other way around, with Borden pointing out several times that Angier just didn't understand showmanship. Angier also trolled magician trade publications early in his career.
  • Jerkass: Borden (the one who gets hanged), and Angier's double, Root.
  • Karmic Death: Borden, being at least partly responsible for his wife hanging suicide, meets the same fate that she did for the alleged murder of Angier.
  • Kayfabe: Adherence to this is the reason for most of Borden's troubles.
  • Kick the Dog: Borden coldly telling Sarah that he doesn't love her "today", which drives her to suicide as a result.
  • Killing Your Alternate Self: The machine creates a perfect clone of Angier each time he uses it. Every time he did the trick, however, it was apparently random as to who would wind up in the box and who would wind up on stage. This is highlighted in the final shot of the movie, which depicts rows and rows of water tanks, with the implication that there's a dead Angier in every single one of them.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Angier sneaks into Borden's show and watches the Transported Man trick, we don't see exactly what happens, we only see his reaction and hear the sound of one of the doors opening. We then cut to Angier discussing the trick with Cutter, who says that the audience didn't have enough time to see the trick.
  • A Lighter Shade of Gray: While both magicians do some highly questionable things, it's ultimately Angier who crosses the line near the end of the film, framing Borden for his death and taking Borden's daughter into his custody, meaning that overall, Borden comes off as the more sympathetic one.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: For Borden's trick the electricity is just for show, but Tesla got it to duplicate things.
  • Liquid Courage: During the Flashback-Montage Realization, we see Borden taking a sip of booze before getting his fingers chopped off.
  • Lovely Assistant: Mentioned by Cutter as an essential part of distracting the audience during the second part of the magic act.
    • First, this job was performed by Julia, Angier's wife.
    • Later, Olivia Wenscombe is this to both of the stage magicians involved (and has affairs with both of them).
  • Lying to Protect Your Feelings: At Julia's funeral, Cutter consoles Angier by recounting a story of a sailor getting resurrected after almost drowning to death. The experience supposedly was like "going home". At the end of the movie, Cutter reveals to Angier that he was lying, the feeling was of agony. Angier is taken aback as he since had many clones of himself drowned in good faith.
  • Mad Artist: Angier shows more traits than his rival. In the end, he explains that the magic shows' main point (and all that it implied) was to puzzle the audience and be considered the best magician ever. Judging from his popularity it was a complete success, but the price he paid was very high.
  • Magical Realism: Tesla accidentally invented a cloning machine in an attempt to create a teleportation one, but it's not a big point and is mostly a story device for the central story of a magician rivalry, and nobody treats it as anything more than just "advanced science".
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Subverted: the movie explains every trick, and at one point Cutter snaps, "You're a magician, not a bloody wizard! If you want to do magic, you've got to get your hands dirty." Perhaps more specifically, Tesla is the wizard, having created Angier's cloning device.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • When Angier proposes "The Great Danton" as his new stage name, Cutter voices concerns about it being old-fashioned. Angier replies with "it's sophisticated", the same words with which his deceased wife pitched the name to him in the first place.
    • Early in the film, Borden tells Sarah he loves her, and she responds that it wasn't true that day, but that it makes the days when it is true mean more. Later, she responds to his "I love you" (on a day when he does "mean it") that it makes it so much harder when he doesn't.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Deliberately invoked. Tesla's invention of a perfect matter replicator could be put to many more benevolent and/or lucrative uses than a stage performance. However, Angier only cared about the show and taking on revenge against Borden, and Tesla, aware of Angier's obsession, wants him to destroy the machine to stop him from going too far. The story also deliberately cuts off all further developments by having Edison's men destroying Tesla's lab.
  • Mundane Solution: Angier originally achieves the Transported Man using a body double, and so do the Bordens. Later, he instead uses Tesla's cloning machine to create the illusion of transporting himself when he is in fact cloning and drowning himself over and over.
  • Mysterious Past: In an early scene it's revealed that Angier and Cutter don't know where Borden comes from or anything about his past before he started working with them. Indeed, apart from the twin revelation, nothing about his life before the events of the movie is revealed.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • In the book, Borden shuts off the power to Angier's machine while the latter is in the midst of the In A Flash act. This effectively creates a ghostly version of Angier who is seemingly immortal and more vengeful than before.
    • In the film version, Borden purposely allows his journal to fall into Angier's hands. The journal contains none of Borden's secrets and is intended to send Angier on a wild goose chase, however his discovery of one word within the journal - Tesla - ultimately leads to the creation of the Real Transported Man and his final scheme to bring down Borden.
    • Cutter tells Angier a comforting lie after his wife drowns, that a sailor who suffered a near-drowning experience told him it was quite peaceful. Angier later kills his doubles this way, in the apparent belief that it's merciful.
  • Noodle Incident: The first time Angier shows The Real Transported Man to Mr. Ackerman, Ackerman is stunned and starts talking about how rare it is to see real magic, and that he hasn't seen it happen since... well, whatever he was going to say, it never comes up again after Angier cuts him off.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Chung Ling Soo, the ancient Chinese performer who hides the strength required to accomplish several of his tricks by always pretending to be a cripple with stiff legs in public.
  • Occam's Razor: The truth behind Borden's Transported Man trick. Cutter insists that Borden is using a double, but Angier thinks it's too simple. It turns out Cutter was right the whole time.
  • Oh, Crap!: During Angier's on-stage performance of his disappearing birdcage trick, when two volunteers come up to assist, Angier realizes too late that one of them is actually a disguised Borden.
    • The exact same thing happened earlier where Borden, in one of his small-time performances quickly realized the volunteer he had picked for his Bullet Catch was a disguised Angier.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The biggest reveal of all is accompanied by one of these.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Borden (probably the Jerkassy one) has a final argument with Sarah. On first viewing it sounds like Sarah is simply confronting him on being an adulterer, with Borden saying he cannot live in their mercurial relationship. On re-watch and with the line, "I know what you really are," Borden's sudden explosion to NOT talk about "it" carries whole new dimensions. Sarah is possibly confronting a Borden that her entire life is based on deception, while Borden all but admits it and expresses the exhaustion of keeping the charade.
  • Out-Gambitted: Both Angier and Borden time and time again. At the end though, Borden comes out on top. (Well, one of them, anyway.)
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Averted: That Root is the body double for Angier's Transported Man trick is something Borden can clearly see through.
  • People Jars: Angier's many drowned copies of himself, stored in a warehouse.
  • Playing God: Angier creates life.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In the original novel: The reason for Borden and Angier's feud is presented differently, and intensifies as a result of this. Angier had briefly been helping his wife with a Phony Psychic routine, and Borden was upset that they had a family friend thinking they could talk to her husband. He stormed into the seance, exposing the trickery and shoving around Julia briefly, accidentally causing her to have a miscarriage. Angier has no idea that the woman wanting to talk to her dead husband was a friend of Borden and simply assumes that he was trying to humiliate a rival when he killed their baby. Borden never finds out about the miscarriage and assumes that Angier is just sabotaging him over an extreme case of Disproportionate Retribution for embarrassing him during his Phony Psychic act.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Tesla knows how twisted his teleporter is, and even tries to warn Angier by letter after it is delivered to him.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The novel and the film, barring the premise of "Two rival magicians in Victorian times try to one up each other," are two separate creatures- for one, the novel has a Framing Device of descendants of Angier and Borden meeting in modern-day England and going over the magician's diaries.
  • Public Domain Character:
    • The Chinese magician Cutter has Angier and Borden see at the beginning to see if they can duplicate his water bowl trick, Chung Ling Soo was a real magician.
    • Tesla and Edison, even if Edison is never actually seen.
  • Ransacked Room: Angier stages a break-in at Borden's workshop with lots of destruction in order to conceal the fact that it was Olivia who stole Borden's notebook.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer:
    • Angier is told that he needs to be willing to "get his hands dirty" if he wants to be a truly great magician, which in context meant being willing to kill doves to maintain an illusion. Borden actually does just that in an earlier trick.
    • When Borden is performing his bullet catch, he asks if his volunteer is "man enough" to point a gun at him and pull the trigger.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The judge overseeing Borden's murder trial is willing to arrange a compromise with Cutter to keep him from having to reveal the method to The Real Transported Man while still proving or disproving Borden's guilt. Also the (unseen) warden who puts Borden under extra security to ensure he doesn't escape, but he receives no ill treatment otherwise.
  • Red Herring: Angier spends a great deal of time deciphering his way through Borden's journal for his secrets, only to find a message from Borden near the end, which explains how he just got him to waste months deciphering nothing.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When Angier drops into the water tank below the stage and Borden in disguise heads after him backstage, a guard blocks his way. Borden rips off his fake beard and pretends to be part of Angier's act which dumbfounds the guard enough to let him pass.
  • The Reveal: The secrets to both Borden's and Angier's Transported Man tricks. Angier was replicating himself using one of Tesla's machines, then killing his clones by locking them in his water tank. Borden secretly has an identical twin who shares his identity with him.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Once the viewer knows that Borden and Fallon are identical twins who regularly swap identities, many scenes in the film are cast in an entirely new light, and since the twins do not behave completely identically, it becomes possible to determine which twin is posing as "Borden" in many scenes - whether they are loving or cold toward Sarah, trying to move past the rivalry with Angier or hell-bent on pursuing it to the bitter end, whether or not they answer to the name "Freddy" (in the novel, one of the twins is named Frederick), and so forth.
  • Rival Turned Evil: Both of them. Part of the enjoyment of the movie is trying to decide who has fallen the furthest.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Near the end, Olivia wisely decides she's had enough of Borden and Angier's feud and just leaves them both.
  • Secret Diary: Olivia steals Borden's "magic tricks" notebook and hands it to Angier.
  • Serious Business: These people are serious about stage magic. Dangerously serious, in fact.
  • Shout-Out: During Borden's Bullet Catch scene, one of the performers on the list is one Mr. Harry Dresden.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Downplayed with the Borden twins. We don't see much of them as individuals, but one is a family man who loves Sarah, and recommends just letting the rivalry with Angier die. Meanwhile the other is more aggressive, mean towards Sarah (to the point where he is at times downright abusive to her), loves Olivia, and sneaks into Angier's performance to learn how he performs "The Transported Man".
  • Single-Minded Twins: "Borden" is actually a pair of twins who have made it their life's work to be so identical to each other that no one can tell the difference. The one flaw in their arrangement is that they fall in love with different women. The women they love can also tell some difference. Specifically, Sarah can tell that sometimes Borden genuinely means it when he says he loves her, and sometimes he doesn't.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Working-class cockney Borden and aristocratic Lord Cawdlow (who turns out to be Angier).
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Angier's wife. She had only two scenes at most, but her death begins the bitter rivalry between Borden and Angier.
    • Also the clerk at Angier's hotel in Colorado Springs. A polite but seemingly unimportant side character... until he reveals he hid Tesla's machine from Thomas Edison's minions as a favor to Tesla and hands it over to Angier, thus setting the final game between the magicians in motion.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: In the novel, Angier comes much closer to figuring out Borden's trick early on. He does consider the possibility of twins and looks into Borden's past, only for Borden to have anticipated that, changing a 6 to an 8 on the birth certificate to make his brother look younger, and also having his brother pose for a picture using stage makeup and cheek-pads to hide that they were identical.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: When Borden leaves Sarah in front of her door only to reappears in her apartment quickly thereafter. It's only much later that we understand how he did it.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • Tesla's assistant's name is Alley. He has a black cat for a pet. An alley cat.
    • The title is unnervingly close to the word "prestidigitation", meaning sleight of hand or magic. The Other Wiki denies a shared etymology, but the phonetic similarities are obvious.
    • The initials of the main characters can be arranged to form "ABRA," as in "abracadabra," without having to change the order of the first and last name.
  • Steampunk: You might not expect it, but Tesla, the poster wizard for this kind of genre, built a magical cloning machine from Victorian-era technologies.
  • Technician Versus Performer: A key thematic element of the rivalry between Borden (the technician) and Angier (the performer).
    Angier: He's a dreadful magician.
    Cutter: No, he's a wonderful magician; he's a dreadful showman. He doesn't know how to dress it up, how to sell the trick.
    • There's also a bit of this between Angier and his double (whose drunken antics have quite the theatric touch). There are hints that the two Bordens differ on this as well—one is a technician, the other more or less along for the ride. The above is proved even more by the movie-long and incredibly spoilerific deceptions of Lord Caldlow and Fallon:
    • Fallon is a near-perfect disguise on a technical level, since both twin Bordens utilize heavy make-up and mirror injuries to cover up the fact they switch between both identities, but neither twin can quite copy the other, thus allowing the audience on a second viewing to distinguish which twin is which and the trick consistently fails to fool Borden's wife completely.
    • The English Lord Caldlow, on the other hand, pretty perfectly plays himself as the American Robert Angier throughout the film with no clues given to the deception save for one line spoken to his wife, alongside his seemingly inexhaustible funds, thus performing at a higher and more intuitive level than Borden in his disguise.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: The rivalry is focused around who can pull off this magic trick most convincingly. Tesla creates a matter replicator that also functions as one after getting some rather immoral adjustments.
  • Tesla Tech Timeline: In the late 19th century Tesla builds a machine that shoots out big lightning bolts and is a matter replicator, capable of making exact duplicates of anything from top hats, to cats, to people.
  • This Cannot Be!: One of the characters in the end, and arguably the viewer on first watching.
  • Title Drop: Professional magicians see their art as three stages; the "pledge", the "turn", and the "prestige".
  • Twin Switch: Angier and his double, Root. Played even more straight with the Borden brothers, identical twins who swap roles, and the Fallon disguise, without anyone knowing. It works better since with the Borden twins, and with Angier and Root, Jackman and Bale are Acting for Two.
  • Unreveal Angle: When Borden performs the original "The Transported Man" on stage, we don't get to see who is picking up the red ball. Rather, the camera stays on Cutter's dull reaction in the audience.
  • The Voiceless: Fallon. Justified because he speaks with Borden's distinctive London accent, and if he was heard using it, that would expose the twins' secret.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Both Angier and Borden are confronted by this at the end of the movie, if their obsession with the craft and their rivalry was truly worth it. Borden decides no, definitely not. Angier is unrepentant in his actions.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: During The Reveal that Borden's having an affair with Olivia, there's a scene where he kisses her while rolling his wedding ring across his knuckles with his free hand. Then again, Borden is secretly a pair of identical twins and only one of them, Alfred, is in love with his wife, Sarah, unlike the other twin Frederick.
  • Wham Shot: Played with: the scene of a field of top hats appears very early in the movie but it isn't until two cats instead of one are running through the field that it becomes clear what exactly that image entails.
  • What Have We Ear?: Borden likes doing this.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Angier's double, Root, is a drunken, arrogant, washed-up Shakespearean.
  • A Wizard Did It: It's never described how Nikola Tesla built a cloning machine. Let's just leave it at "he's one hell of a genius".
  • Xanatos Gambit: Angier killed himself dozens of times so that when Borden inevitably made it backstage, he could be framed for murder on circumstantial evidence. Whether he's the man in the box or the man outside, Borden goes down. However, Angier didn't know Borden had a twin who could avenge him, then take back his daughter. Incidentally, this turns his Xanatos Gambit into a Batman Gambit which was, adequately enough, pulled off by Batman himself, Christian Bale. Also qualifies as a Thanatos Gambit for the Angier clones that end up as the "man in the box".
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: When Borden denies knowing which knot he tied at Julia's funeral, Angier incredulously repeats, "You don't know?"

"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."