The Prestige Explained (Ending and Detailed Plot Analysis)

Hi, this is Barry, and welcome to my site. The Prestige needs no introduction to film lovers, specifically Nolan fans, as this 2006 star-studded masterpiece is arguably one of Nolan’s best films in terms of character development and non-linear storytelling. The movie is set in the era of the rivalry between Edison and Tesla. In The Prestige, we witness uncanny similarities to how Edison’s ability to market his DC powered inventions overpowered Tesla’s AC’s more practical application. The movie is centred on two magicians who each want to be the most magnificent act there ever was and are willing to go to any length to achieve it. Here’s everything you need to know – the plot analysis and ending of the movie The Prestige explained; spoilers ahead.

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Contents

Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Let’s jump straight into the movie spoiler to understand this gorgeous movie. If it’s too soon for you, just skip over the following heading and read further. Is it ironic that just like the magic tricks, once the secret (spoiler) is out, the film loses its charm? Nahhh!

The Prestige Ending Explained: Prestige Movie Spoiler

The ending of The Prestige reveals both Angier’s and Bordon’s secret to their “Transported Man” trick. Bordon was not one person but a pair of identical twins. In contrast, Angier was using the machine to create a clone of himself. The clone would go on to become The Great Danton up until the next show, then die to make way for the next clone. Both men let their professional rivalry take over their lives until it ruined them and the people who loved them. The surviving Bordon twin leaves with his daughter after killing the last Angier clone (Lord Caldlow) with Cutter’s help.

borden fallon makeup the prestige

Bordon and Fallon were identical twins. Fallon was a fake persona interchangeably played by one of the twins. The twins kept this a secret all life long as they knew one day it will come to help with their magic shows. While Angier is shown to be an evil man killing his own clones, we must realize that it was the clone that lived; the original Angier died after this first show by drowning in a glass tank full of water. Every clone that survived died doing the “Transported Man” trick. The look on people’s faces in the prestige was the primary driving force for this kind of brutal daily sacrifice.

The Prestige: Plot Explained

Let’s now go through the events of The Prestige in linear order.

Who is Cutter?

Cutter is an ingenieur who devises magic tricks. He’s the one who powers stage shows; the magician and other performers are the ones who sell the act. He mentors two upcoming magicians – Borden and Angier.

Who is Alfred Borden in The Prestige?

borden fallon the prestige

Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale, is a persona shared by identical twin brothers (not clones). They use this secret to gain an edge in the world of magic shows. When one of them is playing Borden, the other takes on the persona of Fallon, the ingenieur. I’ll hereby refer to Borden in the singular, even though he is one of two people.

Borden wants to be the greatest magic act. He starts off small by being a plant in the audience for an escape trick. He’s in charge of tying the hands of the escape artist.

Chung Ling Soo – What is his relevance?

The old man who performs the trick of the glass bowl only acts like an old crouching man. He does this to establish his posture. In reality, he’s using that posture to hide the glass bowl between his legs for the trick. It’s important to note that Borden is the one who identifies that the old man lives a lie each day of his life to enable his trick. Borden knows this because he too lives a lie alongside his twin brother.

Who is Robert Angier in The Prestige?

Angier is the other main character, played by Hugh Jackman, also looking to become the single greatest magic act. Initially, Bordon and Angier are part of the same team, with Cutter leading them. Angier is the other plant in the audience who is in charge of tying the escape artist’s legs, Julia. Julia is Angier’s wife.

How does Julia die?

Julia McCullough Langford double knot

It all goes well until Borden and Julia decide to take a risky decision on the type of knot he will tie on her wrist. Notice in this scene, Julia gives Borden a nod indicating that he should tie the Langford double knot. The Langford double knot swells underwater, and Julia is unable to free her wrists. She drowns and dies before Cutter can break the glass.

Why doesn’t Borden know which knot he tied?

Borden doesn’t know which knot because he is one of two people. One of the Borden twins tied a different knot on stage. It’s pretty evident from a previous conversation with Julia and Borden that they wanted to up the game using a Langford double knot. Despite Cutter’s warning, one of the Borden twins goes for the complex knot, killing Julia. The guilt has affected him so much that he’s either repressed the memory or is simply unwilling to admit it. Either way, the other Borden twin plays along to protect his bother and claims “he doesn’t know”. In reality, he does know, it’s pretty apparent that the knot was changed, but the Borden twins are unable (on unwilling) to admit it.

The Angier – Borden Rivalry

With Julia’s death begins the Angier – Borden rivalry. Starting with Agier, both men disguise themselves to ruin each other’s shows. Angier slips a bullet into Borden’s empty gun, which causes Borden to lose his fingers. This is shown in the end, but the other twin also has to cut his fingers off to continue playing the same persona. Angier and Cutter reunite to begin a new series of shows, but Borden interferes causing the collapsible birdcage to break one of the audience’s hand. This causes the entire set of shows to be cancelled.

Who is Sarah?

sarah i love you not today

One of the Bordon twins meets a girl, Sarah (played by Rebecca Hall), and falls in love. The two of them have a baby. Sarah’s Borden is not always the one who lives in their house. On the days she’s with her Borden, she feels loved, and his I Love You feels real. When the other Borden twin is with her, she feels a coldness that she cannot explain. One day, Angier follows Bordon and realizes he has been living happily with a family, the happiness that was stolen from Angier.

Sarah is unable to remain happy with all the secrets that Borden keeps from her, and eventually, she becomes an alcoholic and commits suicide as she thinks Borden doesn’t love her anymore and is cheating on her.

Borden’s The Transported Man

Borden The Transported man

Finally, the two Bordens put their biggest weapon to use—they devise the Transported Man trick. It’s simple, one of them enters one door and the twin exits the other. They do this interchangeably. This stuns Angier and Cutter as they have no idea how Borden is accomplishing a trick this magnificently. Angier begins to obsess over Borden’s secret and decides to steal his act.

Angier’s The Transported Man (Using Gerald Root)

The prestige who is Gerald root

Unable to figure out how Bordon is doing his trick, Cutter suggests using a double. They meet a man called Gerald Root who looks like Angier. Unfortunately, he’s a drunk and an erratic person. But Cutter manages to get Root into shape quickly, and they use him to present The New Transported Man. Given Angier is the better showman, this act gains more popularity than Borden’s original. For Angier, this is not enough as he wants to see his audience’s face in the prestige and hates it that a drunk double who cares for nothing gets to take the bow.

In retaliation, Borden tracks down Root and gets him extra drunk. That evening, Borden sabotages the show by moving the bed where Angier lands – this causes Angier to break his leg. Borden also completes the third part of the trick, the prestige, and presents the audience Root, who’s been tied up and hung. He markets for his show across the road, and the audience laughs, thinking it’s Angier who’s hanging on stage.

Who is Olivia?

oilivia

Olivia, played by Scarlett Johansson, is the assistant hired by Cutter for Angier’s shows. She grows fond of Angier and falls in love with him. But Angier’s obsession with Borden’s trick makes him blind to emotions. While we see him starting a relationship with Olivia, he tries to use her as a spy to fish out Borden’s secrets. Olivia is heartbroken and decides to side with Borden. While one of the Borden twins is married to Sarah, the other falls in love with Olivia. Olivia also helps Borden by giving him access to Root, the man she identified to play Angier’s double.

Borden’s Diary Explained in The Prestige

Borden creates a fake diary encrypted with the key, TESLA. He instructs Olivia to hand it to Angier, claiming she stole it. Angier believes her. But the journal is encrypted with a cypher, and Angier can’t read it. Cutter helps Angier kidnap Fallon (one of the Borden twins), and Angier holds him hostage in exchange for the secret to Borden’s Transported Man. Bordon writes “TESLA” on the piece of paper, and Angier leaves.

How did Bordon know about Tesla? Why does Bordon lead Angier to Tesla?

tesla the prestige

Borden tricks Angier into thinking the secret to his Transported Man is the scientist, Tesla. In reality, Tesla is only the key to the cypher. Bordon has planned to send Angier on a wild goose chase all the way to America. Bordon never imagines that Tesla would lead to anything. While Angier is away, Borden plans to dominate the magic show scene as he would be without any competition.

As Bordon’s terrible luck would have it, Tesla, the father of the Alternating Current, is a brilliant scientist and creates a machine for Angier. I believe the machine’s original intention was to teleport an object from one location to the other. However, the device ends up creating a clone in an area far outside the house. This is an outcome that even Tesla doesn’t anticipate. 

The beginning of the movie The Prestige shows a whole bunch of hats. We go back to that scene when Angier stumbles upon his many hat clones and the original cat and its clone. No character in the movie knew that Angier would be returning to London with a machine that could create a clone; it’s just a twist of fate. Specifically, Borden, all he knew he was doing was sending Angier far away with a fake diary. Borden expected Angier to return empty-handed after spending a ton of money.

Angier’s The Transported Man (Using Tesla’s Machine)

Angier The Transported Man Tesla

Angier uses the machine on himself, knowing that the result will be a clone that spawns outside the device; Angier keeps a gun for this result by his side. Soon as the clone appears, Angier kills him. The device can be configured to position the clone’s location at even 50 yards from the machine. Based on this, Angier constructs his act of The Transported Man as follows:

  1. Angier will turn on the machine and enter it.
  2. The clone is created 50 yards from the device at the back of the auditorium.
  3. A trap door will open under the machine on stage, and he’ll drop.
  4. Below is a tank of water that is set to lock him in; Angier will die.
  5. The clone will make his appearance to complete the third part of the act, the prestige.
  6. On the next show, the clone will go on stage to enter the machine and then die while a subsequent clone will take the prestige… and so on.

Angier’s objective is to witness that awestruck look on his audience’s faces. He is willing to sacrifice himself to a terrible death each day just so that he can put on a brilliant show. Angier is not a bad guy for planning his own repeated demise; in fact, he’s beyond any ordinary human for sacrificing himself that way. However, Angier goes after Borden’s daughter, which is where he crosses the line.

How does Angier frame Borden for his murder?

Angier Frames Borden Water Tank

Though Borden was the one who sent Angier to Tesla, Borden never imagined in his wildest dreams that Angier would return with a cloning device. When Angier presents his Transported Man, the audience is mesmerized when they see him be transported by 50 yards in one second. So is Borden. Sarah’s Borden tells Olivia’s Borden to back away and accept that Angier has won. But Olivia’s Borden is unable to let it go; he wants to find out. Angier has planned for 100 shows, which is enough for Borden to get word and come snooping. Enough for him to frame Borden for his death. All Angier now had to do was wait.

Olivia’s Borden shows up and goes on stage to investigate the device; Angier takes note of this. Olivia’s Borden hides backstage and runs down below to witness how Angier accomplishes his trick. As per Angier’s plan, Borden stands in front of the water tank, wondering what’s going on. Angier falls through and lands in the tank, and it locks shut. Borden freaks out and desperately tries to break the tank as he watches Angier drown. Soon Cutter shows up along with the rest of the crew, and Borden is framed for murder.

At the other end of the auditorium, Angier’s next clone doesn’t step out in the prestige, ensuring that Borden is held responsible for Angier’s murder.

How did Angier know not to exit at the prestige?

The theatres in the movie The Prestige are unlike many of today, which depend on a sound system. Auditoriums of the past are very acoustic and constructed keeping in mind that sound must be transported clearly to the other end. At the start of the trick, Angier asks a few audience members to inspect the machine. Borden is one of them, and Angier has been anticipating this moment. Angier knows that Borden is going to want to know what happens below the stage.

When Angier’s clone gets created at the rear end of the theatre, he waits in anticipation of a commotion from under the stage. Borden begins to scream as he sees Angier drowning. This is followed by Cutter and the other crew running down. At the opposite end, Angier’s clone hears this commotion and verifies that Bordon has been framed. He simply avoids making his exit at the trick’s prestige.

Who is Lord Caldlow in The Prestige?

who is lord caldlow?

Robert Angier was born Caldlow to a wealthy family. He stashes his original name and identity to become an American magician by the name of Robert Angier. Considering his family background, keeping the name and becoming a magician would have brought shame to his family. To avoid that, he learns the American accent and creates a fake persona and uses that to pursue his career as a magician. In summary, Lord Caldlow has been pretending to be Robert Angier for the most part of the movie The Prestige.

In the end, after Borden takes the bait, the final clone of Angier abandons his fake name and career and goes back to being Lord Caldlow. Not only has he established himself as the greatest magician, but he’s also exacted revenge on his rival. To the world, Angier is presumed dead. As Lord Caldlow, he secretly buys all of Angier’s belongings and becomes the legal guardian of Borden’s otherwise orphaned daughter. Little does Lord Caldlow know that the Borden in jail is the lover of Olivia, and there is another Borden, the actual father of the girl.

Borden’s Time In Prison

borden in prison the prestige

Olivia’s Borden is tried for murder and found guilty. A representative of Lord Caldlow approaches Borden and offers to buy all of his tricks in exchange for his daughter’s caretaking. Remember, the actual father of the girl, Sarah’s Borden, is still outside, fighting for custody of his own daughter as Fallon. The courts motion that she be removed from Fallon’s care – the reason is that Fallon is unable to produce any identification or proof of funds; he is a fictional character. For the well-being of the girl, Olivia’s Borden agrees to give up all of his secrets.

Angier’s Diary explained in The Prestige

Lord Caldlow’s representative gives a diary to Borden stating that it was Angier’s journal. This diary is a fake journal that Angier, as Lord Caldlow, has sent with his man. Angier is recreating the same circumstances with a fake diary as Borden once did to him. As Borden reads the diary in jail, he realizes that Angier has framed him for murder.

Borden finally meets Lord Caldlow in prison and realizes that his daughter is now with Angier. Unable to do anything about it, Borden pleads to offer Angier his secrets. Angier doesn’t care about the secret to Borden’s Transported Man. He rips them to pieces and walks away with Borden’s daughter claiming victory. 

Does Cutter know that Angier was cloning himself?

did cutter know angier was cloning himself

No, Cutter doesn’t know how the device works as Angier keeps him away from his shows’ backstage production. When Angier gives a trial of the trick, both the producer and Cutter are astonished as to how Angier transported himself by 50 yards in one second. Cutter deduces that the device performs actual magic, but the best he concludes is that the machine teleports Angier instantly by 50 yards.

Cutter finds out that a man by the name Lord Caldlow has bought Angier’s machine, so he goes to meet Lord Caldlow to beg him to never use that machine. Cutter is shocked to find out that Lord Caldlow is Angier. What horrifies him more is that Borden’s daughter is in his custody, and the machine was used with the darkest of intentions to have Borden sentenced to death. Cutter’s anguish is amplified knowing he gave the testimony that incriminated Borden.

The Prestige: The Climax

Sarah’s Borden (disguised as Fallon) meets Olivia’s Borden in prison and learns that Angier is still alive under the name of Lord Caldlow and his daughter is in his custody. Olivia’s Borden is taken away for his sentence and executed. Sarah’s Borden meets with Cutter and tells him the truth. Cutter, who dispises Angier, decides to help Sarah’s Borden to get his daughter back, even if it means the death of Angier.

In The Prestige’s ending, we see the surviving Borden twin walk up to Lord Caldlow, the final clone of Angier, and shoot him. As last Angier dies, he realizes that Borden’s life was lead by twin brothers. Borden says that sacrifice is the price of a good trick which Angier knows nothing about. Angier counters by saying he sacrificed himself every night to perform the trick.

For nothing? Yeah. You never understood why we did this. The audience knows the truth. The world is simple. It’s miserable. Solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second… then you could make them wonder. And then you got to see something very special. It was the look on their faces.

For Angier, it was all about delivering an extraordinary performance. As Lord Caldlow dies, the place goes up in flames along with all the dead bodies of Angier’s clones.

Angier or borden who is the good guy The Prestige

Who was the bad guy Angier or Borden?

Both men were villains to the people around and themselves. 

After Angier’s wife died, he allowed his vengeance and quest for success to let him take extreme steps like putting an innocent man on death row and taking custody of his daughter.

The Bordens chose to conceal the fact that they were twins sharing one life. While it was okay for them to date one person each, both women suffered at their hands emotionally. Olivia was smart enough to walk away from Borden, while Sarah was pushed to suicide.

While many conclude that Borden, the good guy, walks away with his daughter in the end after killing Angier, the bad guy, it’s not that straightforward. They were both reckless and put themselves ahead of everything and everyone. They allowed their professional rivalry to destroy their lives, more importantly, the lives of people who loved them.

 

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