Been watching a lot of amazing video essays breaking down screenwriting, screenplays and writing, as of late – big shoutout to Nerdwriter1 and Lessons from the Screenplay – so inevitably the gravitational pull of Christopher Nolan and the millions of theses produced on his films reeled me in like a Corellian corvette into the belly of an Imperial Star Destroyer.
Now, I am a Nolan fan, but his movies do have flaws. Okay maybe not flaws – let’s call hang-on-a-sec moments. As in, “Hang on a sec, how can the entire police force of Gotham become imprisoned in the sewers beneath the city for months (the entire police force, not even a desk jockey is left behind), only to emerge with the same amount of facial hair and body fat when Bruce breaks them out again?” Hmmm, maybe they lived on rat burgers like the underground dwellers in Demolition Man.
When you’ve got an intricate narrative going on, it can be difficult to keep all them plates spinning. And as a viewer, I am very forgiving. But, great as it is, and I do love the movie, there is one aspect of The Prestige that leaves me scratching my head. Now maybe it’s the dent in said head from using it a brake in a cycling-related fall a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and I’m missing something as a result of a latent brain injury.
But maybe not.
Nolan’s adaptation of the Christopher Priest book it is based on does differ, and what’s bugging me doesn’t seem to come through in the novel.
It’s all to do with The (Real) Transported Man trick and Angier’s motivation. When he uses the drunk actor double, Root, for his (New) Transported Man illusion, he can’t come to terms with being the man under the stage, while Root takes all the applause and adulation above. “No one cares about the man who disappears”.
This is why he travels to Colorado and enlists Tesla to build him the machine. Only thing is the machine does not transport Angier, it duplicates him instead, the clone appearing 50 yards away (according to his rival Borden, and we’ll come to that later too).
When he first tries out the machine, he brings a gun and immediately kills the clone.
Nice work. Thinking ahead. But this is where things get sticky and tricky.
During the show, Angier will use a trapdoor to drop beneath the stage, the lightning the machine produces camouflaging his trick. But assuming it is the real Angier introducing the trick, isn’t he still going to be the man beneath the stage while his duplicate receives the applause in the crowd 50 yards away?
Not a problem, he’s going to drown himself. What?!?
Hmmm. Maybe earlier that day Angier has already used the machine to produce a clone… before the show, and has the clone introduce the trick, while the original waits up in the balcony. Ah, but then wouldn’t the duplicate using the machine again not produce a triplicate? Maybe. Maybe the triplicate “beams” in right next to Angier Mark 1 and the original immediately murders him, while the duplicate drowns under the stage.
See, here’s the thing. Angier is selfish and self-obsessed, confessing later that he never cared about his dead wife. Even if he thought he was creating an exact copy of himself with the same consciousness, memories, etc. there is no way he would give his own life. And if he is creating a new version of himself every night, then the new one – because it must possess the same knowledge and memories as the original – must know if it takes the stage, then it is about to die. It will know its own plan, that there’s a 500-gallon tank of water waiting to drown it below.
In a nutshell – is the man who turns out to be Lord Caldlow at the end of the movie the same Angier who shot Borden’s fingers off an hour and a half earlier. Or is he another clone? If he is another clone, then what the hell was the point? The Angier who was so perturbed at not receiving the applause would have never gotten to experience it.
Which brings me to Borden. When he sees the Tesla-fuelled Transported Man for the first time, he declares to “Fallon” that “we’re done”. Reason for this seems to be that the transported Angier appears out in the audience, 50 yards away, while the Bordens disappear and reappear feet apart. So they can’t compete. Seemingly.
Why not? Why can’t either Albert or Frederick (their names in the novel), depending on who is being who that day, wait out in the crowd the same way Angier’s double does?
All’s well that ends well though. Angier dies and I think the right Borden hanged. If math serves, it is the one that treated Sarah like shit, that didn’t really love her, who ended up in the clink, meaning the one who survives was the one in love with Sarah and therefore Jess’s real father.
Deep breath. Phew. Rant over.