Firstly, I will be going into the plot and thus spoiling some parts as it very hard to write a blog post about The Prestige (book and or movie) without spoilers being given. So this is a firm disclaimer that if you have not read the book or seen the movie. My advice, at least go and watch the movie and then come back to this blog post, the subtle differences between the two mediums are minor so it won’t effect the enjoyment of the book.
The Prestige creates a nice twist on the basic story formula of beginning, middle and end by taking the person through the three stages of a magic trick: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. Throughout the movie, you are not quite sure how the actual ‘trick’ is done, until it is exposed, giving the title of the movie a double meaning as while the movie is about the three stages of the magic trick, while viewing the movie you are also going through the stages.
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. 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. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”The Prestige by Christopher Priest
The rivalry between the two men revolves around the incident that happens with Mr. Angier’s wife (in the book she suffers a miscarriage after being hit by Borden and in the movie she fails to undo a ‘more difficult knot’ that she consented to Borden tying which causes her to drown in front of an audience) as she was an assistant to a different magician. From that moment onwards Angier holds a grudge from then on, which affects him the rest of his life.
In both medium’s the story focuses around bettering the trick, ‘The Transported Man’, a trick that Borden made famous. Angier takes his trick, figuring out a way to make it more elaborate by hiring a body double; however, when his double is taking the spotlight while he is under the stage, he figures out a way so he is receiving the praise.
What I love about this story is that there is no specific protagonist or antagonist, they are both flawed human beings. Both Angier and Borden are selfish and self-centred, they both want to double-cross the other in order to ruin the others career.
One of Angier’s pitfalls is that he will stop at nothing to achieve the more elaborate trick. He enlists scientist Nikola Tesla to create a machine. He uses the machine in his act called ‘In A Flash’, to create a carbon copy of Angier to transport him to the desired destination. It is because of this machine that we see a heartless side to Angier, as he discards the versions of ‘him’ under the stage each night, referring to these ‘shells’ as ‘prestige’s’.
It isn’t just Angier who will not stop at nothing to achieve deception. It isn’t till the very end of the story, that it is revealed that the Borden we are seeing throughout the tale is in fact 2 people. Alfred Borden is in fact, identical twins Albert and Frederick. They have the exact same life, living as Alfred Borden, with only one difference – they fell in love with different women.
Although both Angier and Borden suffer different degrees of loss and are both morally corrupt people, personally I couldn’t help but feel more for Angier. Yet, some part of me wrestled with that decision, as I didn’t agree with what he had done – I understood his motivation on carrying out the act.
This book and movie is a great thing to read separately, or to binge on one after the other. Either way, it will warrant a re-read/watch. The Prestige is an amazing story that has you trying to figure out the story, while piecing it together and wondering whether you were in fact paying attention.