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**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
The Prestige by Christopher Priest (1995)
The Prestige directed by Christopher Nolan (2006)
Alfred Borden and Rupert (aka Robert) Angier are two rival magicians who have a feud which has lasted years. Borden comes up with an illusion called The Transported Man and Angier is obsessed with finding out his secret. He initially thinks it must be a twin, but when researching Borden’s past, he can find no sign of a twin or a brother close enough in age.
Borden tries to lead Angier on a wild goose chase by telling him the secret to his illusion is Nikola Tesla. Angier takes the bait and travels to Colorado to talk to Tesla.
Much to Borden’s chagrin, Angier returns to England with an act that people are calling the best illusion ever to be seen. Borden goes to see it, and using electricity, Angier seems to transport himself from the stage, to the back of the theater. Borden now becomes obsessed with finding out Angier’s secret.
From here, I will hold back and saying how things end in the book, or movie, because they differ, and I will cover it a bit later.
Thoughts on the book
The book starts out from the perspective of Borden’s great grandchild. This part was interesting enough, but it is fairly short and then moves on to Borden’s diary. By the way, the book is a series of diary entries, from four different people but mainly Borden and Angier.
Once I started Borden’s diary, I was hooked. I loved the writing style in this section and from here on out had a hard time putting the book down! I love the way the Borden character writes and makes many references to magic as he writes. An example of this is, “Let me then first consider and describe the method of writing this account. The very act of describing my secrets might indeed be constructed as a betrayal of myself, except of course that as I am an illusionist, I can make sure you only see what I wish you to see. A puzzle is implicitly involved.”
I had seen the movie, but it was long ago enough, that I didn’t clearly remember it, so the book still had a bit of mystery to it. Though as I read along, certain things from the movie would come back to me. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. When I first started the it, I hadn’t remembered from the movie that Borden was a twin. Going back and re-reading some with this in mind, you can tell it is written by two different people. It’s done in such a subtle way, that I hadn’t even realized it initally.
I also did like that it included a great grandchild of Borden’s meeting with a great grandchild of Angier’s. Showing the lasting impact their feud had on the following generations. Though there is something in relation to these two characters-Andrew Borden and Kate Angier, which confused me, and I still don’t know if I totally understand what happened. But we’ll get to that.
This movie was directed by Christopher Nolan and the script was adapted by him and his brother, Jonathon Nolan. Fellow British director Sam Mendes wanted to direct, but author Christopher Priest chose Nolan. He liked Nolan’s movie Following (his more notable works such as Memento hadn’t been released yet), and also wanted to support an unknown director rather than go with someone who was already successful.
Nolan is now of course a critically acclaimed director. His lowest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes has a 70%, which is still pretty high. The Dark Knight has his highest rating on there, but my personal favorite I think is Interstellar. Sam Mendes is an amazing director, but I think with a story with all these twists and turns, Nolan was the better match.
Hugh Jackman plays Robert Angier. He is incredible in this and is well cast.
Christian Bale is one of my very favorite actors and here he is amazing as Alfred Borden. I don’t know what order these movies were filmed, but he obviously worked with Nolan three more times with the Batman movies.
Michael Caine plays the magician assistant Cutter, who goes on to work with Angier. Caine is perfect in roles such as these! Again, I don’t know which was started first, but either this, or Batman Begins was the first time Nolan worked with Caine, and since, Caine has played a part in every Nolan movie!
Scarlett Johansson plays Olive, the attractive stage assistant who works for both Angier and Borden. In the book she was American, yet in the movie they have her be British. Which is funny, because Johansson is American. So had they stuck with the character from the book, Johansson wouldn’t have needed to a fake an accent. I must say though, I was impressed with Johansson’s British accent and it didn’t annoy me the way I thought it would. I think she is a talented actress and was well cast.
Rebecca Hall is fantastic as Sarah, Borden’s wife. Her character is very tragic in the movie and Hall gives an excellent performance.
Since I was just talking about Rebecca Hall as Sarah, I’ll just go ahead and talk about the differences which were made to Sarah and Julia-Angier’s wife.
In the movie, we are introduced to Borden and Angier who are working together, and Julia is part of the stage act. She and Angier are married when we meet them. In the act, they have Julia tied and put in a tank of water which she escapes from. Borden ties the knot around her wrist, and one night she is unable to untie it and she dies. This is what starts the feud between the two, because Angier blames him for the death of Julia.
In the book Julia does help Angier in his career early on in the book. But after an incident we shall talk about next, he no longer has her in his show. They are married and have some kids, then while touring America he meets Olive, and he leaves his wife and kids to be with Olive. Later, Olive is with Borden and Angier makes amends with Julia and in the end, they are back together again.
In the movie we see much more into Sarah’s relationship with Borden. In the book, Borden only mentions her here and there, though he does say how happy he was with home life with her and their two kids (twins, by the way). I liked how the movie showed their relationship more. In the book, they seem to be happily married and neither Sarah nor Olive ever suspect anything in regard to Borden. In the movie though, they highlight the strain the marriage has on Sarah and how she can tell there are days where he means it when he says, “I love you” and days she knows he doesn’t mean it. In the end, Sarah can’t live like this anymore and she commits suicide in his workshop.
In the movie, as I said the feud starts when Julia dies, and Angier feels Borden is to blame. In the book, when Angier is young, he and Julia work as spiritualists. These are people who are magicians, but claim what they do isn’t magic, but is caused by spirits they talk to from beyond the grave. They are paid to hold seances and feel they bring comfort to those who hire them.
Prior to this, Borden knew of Angier’s name because he had letters published in some magician journal that Borden would read. Angier comes off as very full of himself, and later Borden’s aunt or someone has a death in the family and hires a spiritualist. Borden sees the name and realizes that it is the Angier he has read in the magazine. He is young and feels that spiritualists are hacks so after his aunt’s séance, he goes uninvited to another one that Angier is at. During the séance, Borden reveals that Angier is a scam artist and reveals the tricks. He then pushes Julia, who was there assisting Angier.
Julia had been pregnant, and because Borden pushes her to the ground, she suffers a miscarriage. Borden doesn’t realize this, but as time goes on, he does regret his actions. A month after the fact, he writes to Angier and apologizes. Angier, however, is still broken up about the death of his unborn child and does not accept the apology.
I like this reason for their rivalry more than the one in the movie. When I originally watched this movie, I don’t remember being annoyed by the death of Julia; but this time around it seemed so cliché and too over the top that his wife dies.
In the movie, the way they ruin each other’s performances are much more dangerous and cause serious harm. The first time, Angier fires a gun at Borden, causing him to lose two fingers. Later, Borden gets back at Angier in multiple ways, but one is that he moves this mattress thing Angier lands on, causing Angier to break his leg when he goes through the trap door and falls on the hard floor.
In the book Angier messes with Borden’s act by standing in the audience and revealing the secret to the trick, and other more harmless things. Neither does anything that is physically threatening to the other-at least not till the end.
As said, Olive was an American who Angier met while he was touring the USA. The movie makes Angier more sympathetic initially, by having his wife die. In the book though, Angier isn’t too sympathetic because he leaves his wife and kids to be with Olive instead! Though in the movie Angier goes from a sympathetic character, to someone who is obsessed. When he learns Borden’s “secret”, Olive says that it won’t bring his wife back. Angier then replies, “I don’t care about my wife, I care about his secret.”
Anyway, in the book, Olive moves to England with him, and they are together for five years. However, the last couple years their relationship has started to dwindle. Then one day, Olive says that she will get him to love her again by working undercover for Borden and discovering his secret and telling Angier. To which Angier agrees.
In the movie, he and Olive are happily together, when Angier has the idea to have her work for Borden. Olive is hurt that he cares more about Borden’s secret than he does their relationship. She agrees, but from the start seems to have no desire to actually carry out the plan.
In both, Borden and Olive fall in love. She does eventually give Angier the secret, but Borden tells her what to tell him. In the movie she basically gives him Borden’s journal, however Borden writes it for Angier and the end of the diary reveals that he purposefully gave Angier false information. In the book, Angier does get Borden’s journal, however it isn’t until the end of the book.
Speaking of journals, in the movie, while Borden is in prison, he is given Angier’s journal. This too, proves to be a trick and Angier, similar to Borden, knowingly gave it to him and directs his last journal entry to Borden. In the book, Borden never reads Angier’s journal.
The Transported Man
In both the book and movie, we learn that the secret to Borden’s Transported Man trick is that he does indeed have a twin. In the book, when Borden is talking about the secrets magicians keep, he says, “Audiences know well that a magician will practice his illusions for years, and will rehearse each performance carefully, but few people realize the extent of the prestidigitator’s wish to deceive, the way in which the apparent defiance of normal laws becomes an obsession which governs every moment of his life.” Borden and his twin brother live the life of one, which is a huge sacrifice to make for a magic trick, but that’s how obsessed they were! Another quote reads, “What cannot be guessed is the effect the secret has had on my life. This is the real reason Angier will never solve the whole mystery, unless I myself give him the answer. He would never credit the extent to which my life has been shaped towards holding the secret intact. That is what matters.”
He also says, ‘Magicians protect their secrets not because the secrets are large and important, but because they are so small and trivial. The wonderful effects created on stage are often the result of a secret so absurd that the magician would be embarrassed to admit that that was how it was done.”
In the movie, when Angier finds out Borden was a twin, he says how Cutter tried to tell him that, but Angier was convinced it had to be something more complicated. It couldn’t be something so simple and easy. Borden says, “Simple, maybe. But not easy. There’s nothing easy about two men sharing a life.” The movie then goes on to show all the sacrifices they had to make in order to keep their secret. Including have to cut the fingers off of one twin, because the other had them shot off by Angier.
The book you can see that living life like this takes a toll of Borden. At one point in the book Angier is asking, “Which one are you??” and Borden replies saying he doesn’t know anymore. The movie doesn’t go into the psychological effects of living life like this, rather they show the more tangible aspect. Had Nolan gone a different route, he could have delved into the psychological. That would end up being a very different kind of movie though.
I do like how Nolan shows the strain it put on Borden’s lives and their relationships. As said earlier, in the book Olive and Sarah are never shown to suspect anything, so there isn’t the relationship drama there is in the movie.
In the movie, Borden has a right hand man named Fallon who we learn is the twin in disguise and they each take turns being Borden and being Fallon. The book he talks of a helper, but it isn’t his twin in disguise. His assistant is also never kidnapped, the way Fallon is in the movie.
Angier’s Transported Man
In the book and movie, Angier does a trick of The Transported Man using a double. The man’s name is Root, and though he can be difficult, it goes well with him for a while. At some point Angier sits down with him to have a stern talk, however Root knows how important he is, and instead of getting disciplined, he walks away having received a raise. At some point later though they stop doing that act and Root is fired.
In the movie Root is played by Hugh Jackman himself. I was fine with this, but they should have used some prosthetics or something on him! After they clean Root up and dye his hair, he literally looks exactly like Angier-because they are both Hugh Jackman! They just looked far too similar, even if he did act differently. That may be my biggest complaint with the movie though, so I guess that shows how good the movie is!
In the movie, Borden finds Root and gives him ideas to take advantage of Angier and sabatoge the act. In the book it never talks about Borden talking to Root.
In both, Nikola Tesla comes to England to showcase what he can do with electricity. Borden and Angier both see him and are amazed. Borden starts incorporating it into his Transported Man act which really ups the illusion. Which by the way, in the movie they say Borden isn’t a very good showman, despite being an amazing magician. In the book this wasn’t the case. Borden was a great showman as well. Though the movie does a great job showing how Borden was the smarter of the two and could easily tell how a trick was done, whereas Angier was never good at analyzing another magician’s trick.
Anyway, later Borden lies to Angier and tells him that Tesla is the key to his trick. In both, Angier goes to Colorado to meet Tesla and have him build him a machine that can transport someone.
The movie and book show that the original object is seemingly unaffected, but later, in the book, as Angier is leaving the mountain, he comes across the metal rod Tesla has been trying to transport. It is identical to the one inside and they realize it is working, they just need to calibrate where the item, or person, is transported to.
From here, things start to differ from book to movie. In the movie, the machine creates an exact clone. Every time Angier goes in, it creates two of them. Which, by the way, once he realized the machine made an exact clone, there you go! You now have a twin! You don’t even need the machine anymore you can just do the act the way Borden does! But either he didn’t think of this, or he just didn’t want to have to deal with the work it takes to hide the fact you have a twin. I don’t know.
Anyway, he ends up killing one of himself each time he performs the act, and that is how he solves that problem. The one that goes into the machine, goes through a trap door where he falls into a tank of water and is drowned. Meanwhile, the transported version shows up somewhere else in the theater and continues on living life, until the next act.
In the book, the machine doesn’t create a clone. Rather, it recreates him, and leaves a dead body in its place. Similar to the movie, he has to find a way to dispose of these bodies, but he doesn’t have to kill them because once he is transported, the original is just the dead body. Or as someone else online explained it, “In the novel the machine works a bit differently than in the film. It doesn’t exactly copy a person as they are, memories and personality intact, 50 to 100 feet away from the device’s location. Instead, it does in fact transport the essence of the person into a newly created body leaving behind a seemingly dead husk. These dead husks are what Angier refers to as his “Prestige materials” in the novel.”
He ends up keeping his “Prestige materials” in his family tomb and notes the date, time and location each one is from. (In the book it talks about how meticulous Angier is with his notes and keeping track of everything).
Also, I found it very interesting in the book that Angier initially has a hard time being transported. It is incredibly painful and leaves him feeling depressed after. However, after a certain amount of time, he becomes addicted to the experience. In his journal it reads, “The wrenching apart of my body has become a pleasure to which I am almost addicted. At first, I was disheartened by the imaginings of death, of living in an afterlife, but now I nightly experience my transmission as a rebirth, a renewal of self. In the early days I was concerned by the many times I should have to perform the trick to keep in practice, but now as soon as I have completed one performance, I begin to crave the next.”
He says he will even turn it on in his workshop and do it when no one is around.
In the movie Borden wants to find out how Angier does his act, so he sneaks backstage. While back there, Angier is preforming his trick, and falls through the trap door and into the water tank. Borden doesn’t realize this is done on purpose and tries to rescue Angier; however, he is too late. Borden is then arrested for the murder of Angier. While in prison, he realizes Anger is actually still alive, and learns the whole story of what he was doing. Angier, going by his birth name and being a “Lord” is able to get custody of Borden’s daughter (his wife is dead remember).
He is aghast that Angier has taken things so far, and in the end, is helped by Cutter to get his daughter back. Cutter was not in on what Angier was doing and had truly thought Borden had killed Angier. When he finds out the truth, he, like Borden, feel Angier has gone too far.
In the end, the Borden brother that is hung is the one who had been in love with Olive, and the Borden brother that lives is the one that loved Sarah and the daughter, and he is able to come take her and also kills Angier.
In the book, Borden does sneak backstage to find out Angier’s secret. While down there he sees the main part of the engine of the machine that is making it work. Smoke starts coming from it, and thinking something is wrong, flips some switch to stop it because he fears it will start a fire. He stops it when it was part way through the transition though, and this causes there to be two Angier’s. The Angier that was supposed to turn into the new Angier is semitransparent, though he still has all the strength of a normal human. He goes down below and sees Borden. Borden is shocked, due to the fact that Angier appears ghostly, he also says there is a strange slime on Angier when Angier tries to grab him. Borden escapes and as he runs away, he says it was an accident.
Angier’s ghostlike clone decides to kill Borden. One day, while in between acts, he walks through the door to where Borden is sleeping and gets on top of him with a knife. This is when he asks which one Borden is, and he says he no longer knows. (Quick side note, in the book you will read about an event that they were both involved in, first from Borden’s perspective, then later by Angier’s perspective. I really liked this, because they wouldn’t be an exact reaccountment. Each would remember the event a little different, which was a nice touch and very realistic).
Anyway, Borden is so frightened of Angier, and Angier suddenly realizes he can’t kill him and leaves. A few days later, Angier reads that Borden died of a heart attack and he feels it must be his fault for having given Borden such a scare. The Borden that died was the one that was with Olive, so we can assume the Borden who loved Sarah is the one that lived (similar to the movie).
The ghost Angier then decides to go and meet up with his other half.
His other half, though physically normal, has become very weak. He is exhausted simply by walking up a few stairs. He starts to get very sick, and when the ghostly one meets him, he is on his death bed.
The two feel complete when around each other, and they set up a second bed so they can be side by side. The whole household knows what is going on, so this isn’t hidden from Julia or the kids. Which, I mean, that must have been such a weird thing for their kids to see and experience.
Anyway, before Angier dies, he hears about Borden’s death and they are able to get his journal. Angier decides that as a final revenge, he will publish Borden’s journal. However, to show he is a true magician, he won’t blatantly give away Borden’s secret of having a twin.
Once the more physical Angier dies, the ghostly Angier finishes up getting the Borden book published. At the end of his own journal, he says he is going to use the machine to transport himself back into the other Angier’s body so he may be at peace. By the way, Angier’s body is placed in the tomb with the other Angier bodies/husks. He says he hopes this will allow him to be at peace and officially die. He is worried that it will have the opposite effect and cause the dead part of Angier to come alive once it is connected with the rest of himself, but it is a risk he is willing to take.
We then return to modern day. Andrew Borden was adopted into a different family, and until meeting with Kate Angier, hadn’t known about his great grandfather. He has felt all his life that he must have a twin, because he has always felt this weird connection to someone in his head/heart. We learn that at age two, Andrew’s dad met with Kates parents as a way to try and confront their family’s feud. Kate, being a child herself, witnessed her father showing Borden the Tesla machine, which they still had, intact, in the basement exactly had Angier had left it. They argue, and for some reason the Angier dad puts the two year old Borden child in the machine and when it turns off the boy appears to be dead and is taken away.
Andrew, after hearing this story, later goes into the tomb, believing that is where he will find his “twin”. Once in there, he sees the multiple bodies of Angier, as well as the body of a two year old boy. As he is in the tomb, he hears someone who says, “you’re a Borden aren’t you?” Oh, and the boy had the same tag with the date, time and event it took place, just like the Angier bodies have. Anyway, Andrew runs out of there, and when he is back by the house, he and Kate see the figure of a man leaving the tomb and walk away.
Angier had been alive all those years, but apparently couldn’t escape. No surprise no other family members were placed in another tomb considering his wife and children were aware it was full of Angier’s bodies.
What I don’t get is who Andrew is in relation to the two year old Borden. The boy would have been transported into the tomb, which explains why a body was in there. But then why is Andrew still alive? Did the family know he must be in the tomb, go get the live boy, and place the dead body in there? But then why didn’t Angier escape then? It still doesn’t really make sense to me.
I don’t know if Christopher Priest doesn’t explain things because he doesn’t want to be the kind of author that holds the readers hand and walks them through it; or if he didn’t think it out clearly and doesn’t try to explain it because he doesn’t know how? I’m sure it isn’t the latter. If anyone reading this has read the book and can make sense of this storyline, I would love for you to message me and share your insight!
Initially, one might think this is named The Prestige because that is what the final act of an illusion is called. With the book though, it is clear it is given that title, because their twin is the prestige of the act. Borden himself, or themselves, are the prestige. Then with Angier, he has a prestige twin as well.
Book or Movie
The book and movie are interesting, because you think you are reading a novel set in the 1800’s/1900’s about two feuding magicians. Then, unexpectedly, it becomes kind of sci-fi when it introduces the Tesla machine which does the impossible. I read a review, I can’t remember if the person was talking about the book or movie, but they said they enjoy sci-fi, they just want to know that that is what they are reading. I remember first watching the movie and when it shows how Angier is performing his act (which by the way, in the movie they call his act The Real Transported Man, but in the book, he calls his Tesla act “In a Flash”) I had the same reaction. Like what?? This wasn’t supposed to be that kind of movie! The book I didn’t have that thought when things took a turn towards sci-fi because I knew it was coming. The book though has an added creepiness in the end that the movie doesn’t have.
The book and movie are both amazing and I would recommend both. I actually like that Nolan gives you a storyline that is easier to make sense of. Usually, the novel is the less confusing of the two, but in this case the book left me with more questions than the movie. Mainly the modern day part of the story with the young Borden boy. But there is the whole thing where Angier’s obituary is put in the paper before he dies, but both Angier’s are surprised to read it. And Borden didn’t do it because he too was surprised. Unless it was the other Borden twin who did it without the others knowledge? Or maybe it does explain it and I just missed it? I’m not sure. Anyway, the movie actually explains things better whereas the book will leave you scratching your head.
I like the story of Angier and his wife better in the book; but Borden I like that we see more into his relationships in the movie, though his relationships do come to sadder ends than in the book. Though in the book poor Olive sees her Borden die of a heart attack.
I keep going back and forth, but for now, I think I might say I like the movie better because it does a better job explaining things. The book is a great read though and I highly recommend that as well!