The meaning of the film “The Prestige”
Bait, transformation, prestige. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige follows an 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. The usual professional rivalry. Bait .
But one day the Great Danton is found dead behind the scenes during a performance, and his rival, the Professor, is found guilty of death, and he is sent to execution. Transformation .
Finally, there is prestige . In place of the deceased Danton is his mysterious double – Lord Coldlow. In place of the executed Borden – his brother.
The denouement is the most difficult part of the film to understand. Therefore, today I will move away 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 common 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
“The Prestige”: Meaning of the ending
To understand the ending of the film “The Prestige”, one must, firstly, understand the logic of Engier, and secondly, the principle of operation of his machine. Let’s start with the car. When Angier offers Tesla money, he expects to receive a device that can teleport a person. With the help of teleportation, he wants to repeat Borden’s signature number. But Tesla’s machine does not work quite as it should: it does not move the object, but creates an exact copy of it.
It is important to understand that a copy made by a machine is not just a duplicate of the original, it is actually equal to the original . Remember when Robert first sees the operation of the machine and asks Tesla: “Which of them [hats] is mine?” 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 will be able to continue his life for him.
With the help of the machine, Angier could create a double for himself, work with him on the number “Human movement” and live peacefully on, reaping the fruits of his success. But his goal has long been not just to surpass Borden, but to destroy him. So Angier devises a cunning plan. He signs a contract 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 number “Moving a Man” Robert Angier exposes himself to the influence of a machine, and that creates an exact copy of it at some distance, just behind a 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. A copy of Robert appears from behind the screen to a standing ovation from the audience.
No one except Robert himself knows about this secret. His assistants are blind, and the magician does not allow the engineer John Cutter to organize his signature act. Each time after the performance, blind assistants take the box with water and the body of Robert the original to the building of an abandoned theater.
As we remember, the copy Robert has the personality of the original Robert and continues to live his life. But still, why would a magician kill himself in such a sophisticated way every time? The fact is that Robert does not know which of his performances Borden will be. Maybe for the second. Or maybe ninety-two. But he waits for him every time, and every time he plays out this drama solely for Borden’s sake.
Robert Engier creates his own clone at every performance with the help of Tesla’s machine
Over and over again, Robert kills half of himself in the hope that this is the show that the curious Borden will come to. Finally, the Professor actually appears in the auditorium and goes backstage. There he sees a terrible scene, which has already been repeated many times in anticipation of his visit: Robert suffocates inside a box of water. It is not hard to see that Borden is scared and is trying to help Robert. But this ruins him: John Cutter comes running to the noise and catches Borden, allegedly at the crime scene. Robert the copy, seeing that Borden went backstage, remains in his hideout and does not go out to the audience. The crowd believes that Robert was killed, but only the original died, and Robert the copy is triumphant and awaits Borden’s execution.
In the finale, Robert the copy appears under his real name and title – Lord Coldlow. Hints at the title of Robert appear from the very beginning: he hides his origin from Cutter; he tells Julia that his last name is too well known and his relatives do not want her to be associated with circus performances; he pays Tesla a fabulous sum of money that he would hardly have earned from magic tricks.
However, Coldlow does not have time to enjoy his victory – he is hunted down and killed by the surviving one of the Borden brothers. This takes place in the same abandoned theater where Robert’s blind assistants took boxes of corpses.
It takes courage to get into a car every night, not knowing who I will be – the one in the box, or the prestige. Do you want to know what it cost me? You saw where you entered, look, look!
These words, which Robert utters, pointing with his eyes at the boxes with corpses around, confirm that he really was himself exposed to the machine every time, and did not send into it, say, a pre-created clone.
How could Borden forget which knot he tied on the day Julia died?
Other questions about the movie “The Prestige”
What knot did Borden tie?
Angier blames Borden for the death of his wife Julia, and in my opinion, quite rightly. Shortly before the accident, Borden suggests tying another knot – a double langford – instead of the one that was always used in the room. Julia supports him, Borden and Cutter object. But in preparation for the number, Julia and Borden exchange meaningful glances. It can be concluded that Borden still tied a double langford, since Julia did not mind.
To Angier’s question: “What knot did you tie?” Borden replies, “I don’t know,” and goes into confused explanations. How could Borden not know this? His answer seems like an absurd attempt to evade responsibility – until we learn that Alfred Borden is actually two different people. One brother put on a double langford and, of course, remembers it very well. But he did not tell the second brother which 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 answers Angier sincerely: “I do not know.”
For Sarah, the truth about her husband is scarier than cheating.
How did Sarah reveal her husband’s secret?
During the last fight with Alfred, Sarah says: “I will 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 have guessed about the brothers’ secret, if they so carefully hid it from everyone – and first of all from Sarah?
I think it has to do with Sarah’s extraordinary insight. She truly 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. Sarah from the very beginning 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 the restaurant, Sarah could not hide from the fact that he really loved this girl. But at the same time, she knew for sure that her husband loved her, Sarah. She compared the facts, imagined herself in the place of Alfred and realized what a monstrous trick he played in front of her all his life. The most painful thing for Sarah was to realize that she was only a naive spectator during this trick.
Therefore, Sarah 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, for her is much more unbearable than betrayal.
Tesla warns Angier that obsession will destroy him
Themes and motives in the film “The Prestige”
“One day my ideas will destroy me,” Tesla says to Robert Engier. Each of the rival magicians is obsessed with one idea, one passion. But passion destroys the one who allows it to prevail over his own personality.
Borden’s passion is everything new, unknown, solving riddles. 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 comes up with new tricks that make it puzzle not only for the audience, but also for fellow magicians.
It is Borden’s passion that causes his feud with Angier. Eager 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 ruins the girl.
Angier relies on Borden’s thirst for knowledge when he comes up with his latest trick. He knows that a curious rival will surely find a way to peek behind the scenes and see how the Great Danton arranged his signature act. Thus, the desire to unravel the secret of Angier destroys 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 applauding him. It is not so important for him who came up with the number – himself, his rival or Nikola Tesla. In the finale, when desperate Borden gives Robert the secret of his signature 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 could have saved his life. But his own vanity turns out to be fatal for him.
Each of the brothers will lose his beloved through the fault of the other
Engier and Borden have doubles in the film – Tesla and Edison. Although Edison himself remains off-screen, their feud with Tesla permeates the screen. Two inventors who could seemingly collaborate set their lives 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 dark double. This is the person who steals the identity of the protagonist or portends 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 Prestige, the Borden brothers play the role of a sinister counterpart to each other. Anyway, when it comes to love. One of the brothers loves Sara, the other – Olivia. And the one who loves Sarah is forced to silently listen to her quarrel with her second brother. Likewise, the victims of doppelgangers watch helplessly as their lives collapse due to the fault of their dark double. Because of one brother, the other loses Sarah forever.
Engier also has a double (in addition to those that he creates with the help of Tesla’s machine). This is unemployed actor Ruth, whom Cutter hires to play Angier’s stunt double. Ruth is also a kind of doppelganger, just not very sinister. Nevertheless, he manages to acquire a certain power over Angier and disrupts his performance.
For Borden, life has always been a game. Angier only realizes this in the finale.
Life is like a game
At the beginning of the film, Borden explains to Angier that the real game takes place not on stage, but in real life. His ideal is “zealous service to art, absolute self-sacrifice.” An extreme expression of this principle is the Chinese magician Chiang Ling Su, whom Borden admires. Chang Ling Soo pretends to be a frail old man, but performs a trick that requires good physical fitness.
Borden’s whole life from start to finish is a game whose rules the brothers never break. Even the loss of lovers, even death, cannot end this game.
Robert Angier understands this principle only closer to 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 revive and hear thunderous applause from the crowd.